For Farmers, Every Day is Earth Day


Earth Day comes once a year, always on April 22—but supporters like to say that Earth Day should be every day.

For farmers like me, it really is.

Every day of the year, we turn manure from our farm’s pig production into energy.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from looking at our farm here in the Netherlands. We grow a wide range of crops, including corn, wheat, and sugar beets. Right now, we’re planting lupins, which produce a bean that can become an ingredient in all kinds of food, from sauces to baked goods. But it is also feed for our pigs.

We raise pigs and from them we sell pork under our own brand name of Hamletz in two Dutch supermarkets. The Dutch animal-welfare society granted us a two-star rating because of our pigs’ better life quality system. This makes sure the pigs receive proper housing and nutrition. We also work hard to keep them healthy.

Because we invest so much in the welfare of our pigs, we hope consumers will pay for the better wellbeing and the better taste of our pork. We’ve created a market for this, selling to consumers who believe in what we do, and who also believe that our extra measures contribute to a better taste.

In addition to pork, pigs produce manure—a lot of it.

Instead of seeing manure as a smelly and messy byproduct of our business, we see it as a resource.

We collect as much of it as we can with a scraper that scrapes it from our barns several times a day. In other barns, we have storage for manure in the barn and collect all of it in special silos. The best producer of energy is manure that is fresh from the animal.

All of the manure is delivered to a biogas plant we have built on our farm. We deposit it into a digester. We also add other waste products, such as faded tulip bulbs, coffee pallets, and grain residue not suitable for consumption. From these raw materials, the digester extracts methane, which big engines turn into electricity.

We use this electricity to warm our house and our pig stables. We also deliver electricity to the grid, allowing other people to make the most of our source of renewable energy.

Other tools of renewable energy—windmills and solar panels—depend on the weather. They need blustery days and cloudless skies. Our biogas plant, by contrast, never stops working. It produces electricity 24 hours a day and seven days a week, no matter what the conditions are like outside.

Electricity is just the first benefit. Warmth is the second. We heat our pig barn and our houses with the warmth that is left over from the process.

After we remove the methane from our manure, we’re left with a material called digestate. But that’s just a fancy name. It’s still manure, but without the methane and much of the smell.

The digestate fertilizes our soil. We work it into trenches rather than spreading it over fields as feed for our crops.

The purpose of the fertilizer, of course, is to put nitrogen and phosphorous into the soil. This replenishes the earth, allowing healthy crops to grow once more. It also means that we release less carbon into the atmosphere.

Our process sometimes goes by the name of “regenerative agriculture.”

For our farm this all makes economic sense. Because we produce much of our own fertilizer, we don’t have to count on others to produce it for us. That’s an advantage in normal times, and it’s a huge one right now. The cost of fertilizer is soaring and has been going even higher in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is a global problem—but our wholistic approach means that we’re feeling the pain of it less than others.

We take additional steps to improve our farms sustainability, too. We feed our pigs proteins that we grow on our own farm or purchase in the region rather than relying on shipments of soybeans from South America. The reduced transportation needed to get feed for our pigs to our farm decreases potential CO2 emissions.

We also grow strips of grass alongside our ditches to increase biodiversity in everything from birds to bugs. This is also good for the water quality.

We are committed to sharing the story of our farm, so citizens and consumers have a better understanding of the decisions we are making every day. By investing in the welfare of our pigs and renewable energy through our biogas plant, we are doing what we can to protect the welfare of our planet—one step at a time.

On our farm, Earth Day is every day.

Annechien ten Have Mellema

Annechien ten Have Mellema

Recognized as by the GFN as a 2021 Kleckner Award for Global Farm Leadership award recipient, Annechien ten Have Mellema has been farming since 1993. On her farm you'll find 600 sows, 5,000 finishers, wheat, sugar beets and corn and a biogas plant 1,1 MW. She is a pork industry leader, member of the board of a Local Water Authority, and member of the Council on Animal Affairs. Annechien is founder of Hamletz, scharrelvlees van Annechien her own brand of pork.

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