Increasing circularity and provide more sustainable transitions in agriculture
Agricultural systems are nowadays very open systems, creating problems in the nutrient cycle and consequently affecting greenhouse gas emissions. There is also a growing need to transition to more plant-based solutions, as livestock is a big influencer on climate change, land use and fresh water use. But how can we help livestock farmers instead of constant finger pointing and blaming them for these problems?
My project idea partially creates circularity in agriculture by integrating waste streams in the system and by helping livestock farmers to transition towards more sustainable animal protein or plant-based proteins. Improving circularity in our agricultural systems is important, as is also stated by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) Executive Board President Louise O. Fresco and director of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) Louise E.M. Vet. I want to pose possible solutions that can be used on the short term and long term to increase this circularity, while transitioning towards more plant-based solutions. It is important that our eating behaviour will change, because animal protein (especially meat) must become a marginal protein source for this project to be successful. Due to debts (because of major investments in the company) it is often hard for livestock farmers to transition to other sources of income. My solutions are targeted on these farmers and to help them by financing either of the 4 ideas: 1. If the soil of the meadows is of good quality, this can be transitioned into plant-based agricultural fields. This decreases the need for importing food, thus decreasing transportation. 2. If the soil of the meadows is of poor quality, these meadows can be transitioned into nature reserves. These reserves can help provide corridors for animals and be an addition to the National Ecological Network (NEN, also known as EHS). By transitioning from monocolture grasslands towards natural areas we can increase biodiversity and decrease our impact on climate change. Large herbivores are utilized for ecological grazing management with a low grazing pressure to increase hetereogeneity in these areas. Meat from these grazers will be a local by-product. 3. The farm stable will be trasitioned to an insect farm. Electricity will be provided by solar panels and heating by geothermal heat pumps. The insects are fed by food waste streams, so that the lost proteins are captured in the insects that can be consumed later. Food waste streams can come from e.g. their own agricultural land, by-products from food production and food wasted by larger companies. 4. The farm stable and part of the area surrounding the farm will be transitioned into algae farms. These algae are mostly fed by urine and faeces waste streams from large companies in the surrounding area. This is a system already implemented by NIOO-KNAW, so the expertise is already available. However, upscaling is still necessary. The algae can then be dried and used as a fertilizer on agricultural fields. Additionally we could try to seperate water from manure, such that the water can be used on agricultural fields or for livestock. The dried manure can then be easily transported to places where fertilizer is necessary, possibly even globally (returning nutrients from where we took them).