An old principle in a modern dress: circular agriculture

Written by
Eric Rodríguez Martín
On
August 14, 2019

Driving innovation, boosting sustainability and helping the feed to food chain to stay competitive. Circular agriculture is the next big step in our way towards creating a more sustainable future.

Circular agriculture, it’s a modern term that resonates with old practices in agriculture that got lost across the years. The idea was simple, farming in a way that allows all the losses or sub-products to be reused within the farms.

In the last century the focus was put on efficiency, in other words, produce as much as possible with low prices and a reasonable profit for the farmers. Don’t get me wrong, having ultra-efficient farming practices has been a great success for the humankind. Nowadays we have affordable protein, grains and vegetables as a result of this approach, but this is not guaranteed for the future. I believe we need to evolve towards a truly sustainable agriculture (while keeping efficient production systems).

Long-time ago, before the use of industrial fertilisers, we used to have the so called ‘mixed farming model’. Both agriculture and animal husbandry were practised together; pigs would eat what could not be digested by humans or sub-products of the agriculture, chickens would get leftovers from the human kitchen, cows were fed with rests/waste of the crops, and all the manure was returned to the land as a fertilizer.

Circular agriculture builds on the idea of reusing all components of the feed to food chain, but more widely, not just at the level of the farm, but also at local, regional, national and transnational levels while incorporating the use of modern technology.

Circular agriculture focuses on:
-using a minimal amount of external inputs
-closing nutrients loops
-minimizing the impact on the environment

Circular agriculture requires, consequently, a revision of the entire sector’s mindset


Obstacles to circular agriculture

After many years of policies promoting efficiency, we now face some legal hurdles that block the development of circular agriculture. Governments need to engage with this new situation and adapt the current legislation to enable further development.

An example of this are the many side products in the food chain that are not allowed to be used in animal feed due to the risk of contamination in the food chain. However, in Japan, legislation prevents this situation by requesting a mandatory heat treatment of the food waste to be used as a feed in the pig production, resulting in a 35 percent of this food waste recycled into pig feed.

Another example is the use of manure-based products as a substitute of fertilizer. Current legislation doesn’t allow livestock farmers to sell their manure to arable farmers, as there is no control on the suitability of that manure for arable or horticultural farming. It is necessary to legislate in order to enable these new types of transactions.


Opportunities for the feed to food chain

The impact of circular economy can be pictured by taking data from The Netherlands as an example:

• The benefits of a circular approach in the agri and food industries have been estimated at EUR 930 million (Bastein et al., 2013).
• The increase in the share of biogas will contribute to a reduction estimated at 150 kt in CO2 emissions, which is a 1.2% of the emissions currently produced by the Dutch agriculture and fisheries sectors.
• The footprint reduction for land use amounts to more than 2000 km2. (mainly because of the decrease of the use crops to feed animals)

Some Examples:
Sub products or residues from the agricultural sector can be converted into biogas and, through refinery, into other high-value products, such as compost, animal feed and biodiesel (closing external loops).

Industrially processed food creates different residue streams. These residue streams can be found both during production and after consumption. For instance, while eating an orange only creates fruit peel as an end residue, drinking a glass of industrial orange juice made from concentrate, also involves energy consumption and a residue of packaging material. The result of processing food is a residue stream that typically contains useful proteins, minerals and vitamins which could be used for animal feed, instead of being incinerated as a waste.

Another example is cheese production, where the protein-rich whey that’s currently created could be used as animal feed.

Circular agriculture practices will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is key as this sector is very exposed to the effects of climate change.



Farmers cannot do it alone, partnerships across the chain are essential.

Circular agriculture is not a fixed model: it is a collective search (by farmers, engaged citizens, companies, scientists and researchers) for new approaches in the feed to food chain, combining sustainability principles with new technology and innovations. Although farmers may play a crucial role in this shift, it does not mean they have to do it alone. It is crucial to develop new business models and partnerships across the feed to food chain.

Three steps to support the transition to a circular agri-food sector

1. Build a coalition of front players and key stakeholders (including innovative start-ups or scale-ups) throughout the feed to food chain to invest in systemic change and support innovation.
2. Develop circular pathways for different business models, building on a comparison of their performance across a set of environmental, economic and even social indicators.
3. Innovate, test & learn by helping players implement best practices and effectively lead change on the ground. Share best practices.

I truly believe that circular agriculture is the model of the future, “circularity is the new sustainability” for the feed to food players. At nlmtd we have the expertise and the network to identify value chain partners and make your organization future proof.

Are you curious about how your organization could be part of the circular agriculture? Contact us at nlmtd@nlmtd.com

On
August 14, 2019

An old principle in a modern dress: circular agriculture

Driving innovation, boosting sustainability and helping the feed to food chain to stay competitive. Circular agriculture is the next big step in our way towards creating a more sustainable future.

Circular agriculture, it’s a modern term that resonates with old practices in agriculture that got lost across the years. The idea was simple, farming in a way that allows all the losses or sub-products to be reused within the farms.

In the last century the focus was put on efficiency, in other words, produce as much as possible with low prices and a reasonable profit for the farmers. Don’t get me wrong, having ultra-efficient farming practices has been a great success for the humankind. Nowadays we have affordable protein, grains and vegetables as a result of this approach, but this is not guaranteed for the future. I believe we need to evolve towards a truly sustainable agriculture (while keeping efficient production systems).

Long-time ago, before the use of industrial fertilisers, we used to have the so called ‘mixed farming model’. Both agriculture and animal husbandry were practised together; pigs would eat what could not be digested by humans or sub-products of the agriculture, chickens would get leftovers from the human kitchen, cows were fed with rests/waste of the crops, and all the manure was returned to the land as a fertilizer.

Circular agriculture builds on the idea of reusing all components of the feed to food chain, but more widely, not just at the level of the farm, but also at local, regional, national and transnational levels while incorporating the use of modern technology.

Circular agriculture focuses on:
-using a minimal amount of external inputs
-closing nutrients loops
-minimizing the impact on the environment

Circular agriculture requires, consequently, a revision of the entire sector’s mindset


Obstacles to circular agriculture

After many years of policies promoting efficiency, we now face some legal hurdles that block the development of circular agriculture. Governments need to engage with this new situation and adapt the current legislation to enable further development.

An example of this are the many side products in the food chain that are not allowed to be used in animal feed due to the risk of contamination in the food chain. However, in Japan, legislation prevents this situation by requesting a mandatory heat treatment of the food waste to be used as a feed in the pig production, resulting in a 35 percent of this food waste recycled into pig feed.

Another example is the use of manure-based products as a substitute of fertilizer. Current legislation doesn’t allow livestock farmers to sell their manure to arable farmers, as there is no control on the suitability of that manure for arable or horticultural farming. It is necessary to legislate in order to enable these new types of transactions.


Opportunities for the feed to food chain

The impact of circular economy can be pictured by taking data from The Netherlands as an example:

• The benefits of a circular approach in the agri and food industries have been estimated at EUR 930 million (Bastein et al., 2013).
• The increase in the share of biogas will contribute to a reduction estimated at 150 kt in CO2 emissions, which is a 1.2% of the emissions currently produced by the Dutch agriculture and fisheries sectors.
• The footprint reduction for land use amounts to more than 2000 km2. (mainly because of the decrease of the use crops to feed animals)

Some Examples:
Sub products or residues from the agricultural sector can be converted into biogas and, through refinery, into other high-value products, such as compost, animal feed and biodiesel (closing external loops).

Industrially processed food creates different residue streams. These residue streams can be found both during production and after consumption. For instance, while eating an orange only creates fruit peel as an end residue, drinking a glass of industrial orange juice made from concentrate, also involves energy consumption and a residue of packaging material. The result of processing food is a residue stream that typically contains useful proteins, minerals and vitamins which could be used for animal feed, instead of being incinerated as a waste.

Another example is cheese production, where the protein-rich whey that’s currently created could be used as animal feed.

Circular agriculture practices will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is key as this sector is very exposed to the effects of climate change.



Farmers cannot do it alone, partnerships across the chain are essential.

Circular agriculture is not a fixed model: it is a collective search (by farmers, engaged citizens, companies, scientists and researchers) for new approaches in the feed to food chain, combining sustainability principles with new technology and innovations. Although farmers may play a crucial role in this shift, it does not mean they have to do it alone. It is crucial to develop new business models and partnerships across the feed to food chain.

Three steps to support the transition to a circular agri-food sector

1. Build a coalition of front players and key stakeholders (including innovative start-ups or scale-ups) throughout the feed to food chain to invest in systemic change and support innovation.
2. Develop circular pathways for different business models, building on a comparison of their performance across a set of environmental, economic and even social indicators.
3. Innovate, test & learn by helping players implement best practices and effectively lead change on the ground. Share best practices.

I truly believe that circular agriculture is the model of the future, “circularity is the new sustainability” for the feed to food players. At nlmtd we have the expertise and the network to identify value chain partners and make your organization future proof.

Are you curious about how your organization could be part of the circular agriculture? Contact us at nlmtd@nlmtd.com

Posted by
Eric Rodríguez Martín
On
August 14, 2019