Geert and Sofie from the Biezenhoeve make a conscious choice for sustainability

In picturesque Watou in the Belgian "Westhoek" lies the Biezenhoeve of Geert and Sofie Vandenbussche - Vanpeperstraete. Not just any Milcobel dairy farm. In fact, Geert and Sofie already made the national press. They were the first in Belgium to add 1% nitrate to their concentrate feed. This would allow them to reduce their cows' methane emissions by 10%. We wanted to know the ins and outs of that.

Geert and Sofie took over the Biezenhoeve in the year 2000. The farm then had 25 cows, and had an annual production of 7000 liters. In 2013 they built a new barn with a milking robot. Today they lovingly take care of their 70 dairy cows and 40 young cattle.  In addition, they grow corn and grass clover. Geert is also active at cattle feed company Decadt.
Sofie takes the broadening of their activities to heart. "I have always had a passion for conveying our story to the consumer. That's why I regularly host visitor groups and schools. In this way we want to create more understanding of farming and dairy farming, and we want to show people how the sector is committed to sustainability." Companies or families can also come to the Groin Farm for a "Farmfun" team building event.

Clear vision on sustainability

In 2019, Geert participated in the enteric emissions working group, which determined the industry covenant. "That triggered something in me, and made me think about a sustainable milk herd. We also get regular questions from visitors about environment. Sustainability is a conscious decision for us. All decisions we make in our operations today must not only be profitable but also sustainable at the same time.  The balance between ecology - economy and sustainability is important." 
"I want to prove to the outside world that as agriculture we can also be innovative and think about the climate.  In the end, we as farmers also suffer when the climate is not doing well. And I also wanted to prove that we are already making a lot of efforts."

Klimrek climate scan

Geert was the first Milcobel member to participate in Klimrek, a project in which a climate scan of the dairy farm is made and an action plan is developed with possible measures. Klimrek makes a climate scan of all activities on the dairy farm, offers the dairy farmer insight, and comes up with a number of ideas and recommendations of actions one can take. These actions are not only sustainable, but also good for the wallet.

What is Klimrek about again?

KLIM(aatbe)REK(ening) is a way to map in detail all climate-related emissions on and around the dairy farm. Klimrek not only gives you insight into the quantity and origin of the emissions. You also get insight into possible measures.

How did this scan go?

Numerous data were collected with a climate consultant from ILVO and Innovation Support Center. That took 3-4 hours. Then the carbon footprint was calculated. I arrived at a footprint of 1.06kg/CO2/l milk.

Did you also receive advice on possible actions you could take?

Definitely. We were already doing a lot, but thanks to Klimrek I started to pay much more attention to certain choices. Sustainability is a conscious choice for us. All the decisions we make today in our operations have to be not only profitable but also sustainable at the same time.
For example, I have taken steps to keep fewer young stock, although you only see the results of this after a few years. We also pay extra attention to the health of our young stock. I have also been reasonably successful in increasing the longevity of our cows. I use grass clover as much as possible to grow more of our own protein. And I use as little fertilizer as possible. We are working on the quality of forage, and thanks to the addition of 1% nitrate in concentrate feed, we aim to reduce our cows' methane emissions by 10%. 
The number of measures a dairy farmer can take is rather limited. It is constantly searching for what you can do better and that will be different for everyone. With Klimrek, though, I am convinced that everyone will find things they can do. Klimrek also makes some things insightful. The impact of certain decisions we made is now quantified.

How do you see the dairy farm of the future?

"More circular and carbon neutral. Science must be given the opportunity. And the farmer has to be given the opportunity.  We are going to become a lot obligated, but there are also many dairy farmers who are open to it. The revenue model also needs to be looked at. Not everything can be passed on to the customer or consumer. But there is no such thing as everything for free."

Proud of our cooperative

"I used to go to work at Milcobel as a job student," says Geert. "Even today I still know people there. It's more than just the pricing that creates connectedness. Even though we are not on a member board, we do have the feeling that we can help decide. And we also like the way things are communicated today much better. There is honest talk about what is going well, and where it needs to be better. We also always watch the webinars. And we are proud of our products. And sustainability is also important to us."

Would you like to help us build our milky way?

To make a milky way, you need a lot of stars and we are looking for them constantly. At Milcobel, you are the captain of your own galaxy, you can push your boundaries to infinity and beyond. Are you someone who looks towards the future with an open mind? Prepared to take on any challenge? Who wants to become a shining star in our firmament? So go and boost your career and apply for a job now.

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Milcobel is a warm cooperative with respect for its members’ diversity. Our dairy farmers are the heart of our cooperative. Through dialogue and cooperation, we are building a sustainable future for dairy farming together. A future you can be part of. Are you a dairy farmer working in Belgium, the Netherlands of Northern France and are you interested? Get in touch with us now.

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