Brothers Marcel and René van Helvoirt have a dairy farm together in Ell. In addition to having recently built a new barn, the company now has a mono-rotten tank for the production of biogas. A golden handle.
The installation of the mono-fertilizer tank required a herd of at least four hundred dairy cattle. ‘We did not have that at the time, but the environmental permit to expand to five hundred cows was already in place,’ says milk producer Marcel van Helvoirt from Ell in Limburg. “We were of the opinion that the combination of expanding and installing a digester could work well. Then the ball started rolling. ‘
An expansion from three hundred to five hundred dairy cows had been on the way for some time, but because the brothers Marcel and René van Helvoirt had not yet really determined the direction towards sustainability, the plan was shelved. The idea of the fertilizer tank ensured that the plans and their design took off.
The brothers also felt that if they wanted to do something about sustainability, they had to keep going. So much the more because otherwise they would lose their driver’s license. “Suppose we had waited five more years, then it might not have happened,” says Marcel van Helvoirt.
For example, other entrepreneurs have a branch of care and we have an energy branch
A further boost was the halting of a milk producer in the area. “He did not want dairy cows anymore, but offered us to place young animals with him. This allowed us to move phosphate rights and thus upscale more easily. Then we could swap the young herd for dairy cows. That was actually when the puzzle pieces just fell into place. ‘
Construction of the digester started in the autumn of 2020 and the expansion of the barn in the spring of 2021. The digester started in April 2021 and in the summer of the same year the first cows arrived in the new barn. ‘The new barn meets the requirements of Maatlat Duurzaam Veehouderij. In the existing stables, the slatted floors are closed thanks to rubber mats, and manure robots collect the manure that goes to the digester ‘, the dairy farmer explains.
In front of Van Helvoirt Melkvee’s company, there is a mono-digestion tank that ultimately turns manure into natural gas. Every day, about 40 cubic meters of manure enters the digester. A minimum number of cows is required for this, in this case four hundred.
During fermentation, biogas is released, from which natural gas is produced by means of a technical process. The total production each day amounts to an average of 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, which is led directly into the natural gas network under high pressure via a transfer station at the energy supplier Enexis. Converted, it is an amount that can supply 250 households with gas every day.
The brothers consider the fermentation of manure as an additional branch within the business. “For example, other entrepreneurs have a branch of care, we have a branch of energy. Therefore, the idea of a slurry tank fit perfectly into the plans for the expansion ‘, says Van Helvoirt.
‘We approach things in our own way, but you can feel that people are interested in the way we do it. This has definitely got to do with the size of our business. Some people find it interesting that we keep 500 cows. But the combination with the fermenter also appeals to the imagination. We have an excellent location, but of course we must also take into account our surroundings. These are all problems that you have to deal with as an entrepreneur ‘, says the dairy farmer.
The brothers are also participating in the project ‘Integral approach’, which, in order to meet the methane and ammonia goals together with livestock farming, devises practical measures that reduce methane and ammonia emissions, improve business results and have no negative effect on more. animal welfare, animal health, grazing or biodiversity.
To give interested parties a look at the new barn, but also to show how a digester works exactly, two open days are held on Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th of June. Friday is intended for fellow farmers, Saturday local residents and other interested parties are welcome. The agricultural consulting firm Arvalis, which helped the Van Helvoirt brothers with the permitting process, is in charge of organizing the open days.
During the open days, a number of exhibitors are present and people can see how the cows are milked. “We find it important that visitors know that we treat our animals well and that each cow receives adequate attention from us because that image is often blurred,” Van Helvoirt notes.
Marcel (48) and René (48) van Helvoirt have a dairy farm in Ell, Limburg. They have 65 hectares of land. The brothers have a progressive modern dairy farm with 500 cows and 325 pups. The annual production per. cow averages about 10,000 kilos. The brothers run the business together. They milk three times a day in a rotating barn.