By Mark Moore
The opportunity to have a true boots-on-the-ground tour of farming operations in other parts of the world is truly the most memorable part of attending any IFAJ Congress. And having participated in several congresses over course of my ag journalism career, each tour stop has left an indelible mark that has expanded my horizon in ways I never thought possible.
Every farm on an IFAJ tour is replete with its own great storyline, and the copy is there for the taking. But there are those tours that simply break the mold. Such was one of my tours on a dairy farm in the Netherlands.
I was attending the dairy portion of the 2018 IFAJ Congress, in part, to get a good feel of what colleagues from around the world wanted in a dairy farm tour. I’m using this information for our committee to help plan the Wisconsin post-congress dairy tour in 2019. And while I focused much of my time talking with colleagues on their perceptions, expectations, likes and dislikes during our time on the bus ride, I was paying keen attention to the on-farm tours, most importantly the questions journalists were asking.
And then we stopped at the farm of Bartele and Rianne Holtrop.
We first spilled off the bus and were greeted by Bart with an enthusiasm that had him bouncing about making introductions. We sat down, and with white board and marker in hand, Bart began to tell his story, complete with hand-drawn visuals. Class was in session, and I was a willing student.
With 44 hectares (approximately 109 acres) and 100 cows and young stock, Bart and Rianne have developed a dairy system that relies entirely on pasture. Cows are in fields, where they also happened to be milked in what can be described as a portable milking parlor. Grazing year-round is unconventional in the area due to climate, but Bart makes it work.
His goal is to develop a system that’s fully sustainable. And he’s passionate about telling his story.
Questions came quickly, with many asking just how he can make his “system” work. Not batting an eye, Bart was adamant that his system works well, providing him a better milk price (organic, grazing and not de-horning his animals added to the milk check), and his animals are healthy and thriving.
The farm began processing their own milk at a cheese factory in Rouveen, which has increased their return.
“Our goal is to develop an agricultural system that fully cooperates with nature and is absorbed in the character of the environment,” Holtrop said.