On the 10th and 11th of April 2019 the ERA-NET SusAn mid-term Research Project Seminar was hosted by the SusAn Partner, Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality the mid-term seminar took place at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands.
Successful transnational research was demonstrated by the 14 projects which are funded via ERA-NET SusAn’s first co-funded call at its mid-term project seminar. More than 100 researchers from over 20 countries work together in the co-funded SusAn projects which are supported with a total of 16 Mio. € of national and EU funds.
The story of Dutch agriculture or ‘How a tiny country feeds the world’, as National Geographic depicted it in 2017, was referred to in the opening speech of Peter Paul Mertens management team member of the Department of Knowledge of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Martin Scholten, general director of the Wageningen University Animal Science Group. Martin Scholten elaborated that The Netherlands is responsible for a very modest 2% of the world food production. Still, given the countries’ size, a quite impressive number. This high production comes with serious challenges in terms of climate change and the Paris agreement, animal welfare issues, (one-) health related questions and environmental pressure. Peter Paul Mertens stresses the importance, but also the increasing complexity of complying with national and European directives and at the same time keep production sustainable and at high levels. The new Dutch vision on circular agriculture faces these challenges, and comes up with possible solutions and the key role knowledge and innovation plays in finding such solutions. The current SusAn research projects are expected to contribute and to have impact in realising sustainable livestock production. SusAn coordinator Elke Saggau, from the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE), underlines the importance of research and innovation in answering the challenges society is facing. She pointed out the need to do so in a coordinated transnational way which has led to the SusAn ERA-NET and the fourteen projects showcased in this seminar.
The first seminar day was reserved for the fourteen research projects to present themselves, starting with three-minute pitches showcasing the first results and how their project could contribute to a more sustainable animal production. By referring to an object symbolising their projects, they informed the researchers from the other co-funded projects and from the ERA-NET SusAn partners about their research project and its relevance in a brief, convincing manner. The pitches were clustered in four groups: pig, sheep and cattle research and one group with other livestock animals (poultry and bees) or general issues. Research projects focus on a range of topics, from alternative castration techniques to novel non-food and local cattle feed sources, from increasing genetic diversity and cross-breed traits for both high-production and resilient animals to improved housing systems that both enhance animal welfare and find clever solutions for manure recycling. The projects clearly take the impact of their results on the end-users into account, on a farm-scale level or in more comparative assessments.
After a poster market and a networking lunch, the 14 coordinators presented how their project contribute to ERA-NET SusAn’s objectives and what kind of impact it will have on the 3 pillars of sustainability - economic relevance, social acceptance and environmental compatibility. What will be the -hoped for- impact of the joint research funded through the SusAn ERA-NET? And why should policy makers keep on funding transnational research cooperation? SusAn ERA-NET is based on a multi-actor approach that is expected to make a translation from research to actual applied approaches easier. Several of the project presentations offer potentially interesting aspects for the European economy and animal production systems. Transnational research cooperation in general is interesting and beneficial, because countries learn a lot from each-others’ experiences and it helps in avoiding unnecessary duplication of research. Some innovations can be adapted to the national setting and developed further again. Mechanisms that facilitate this kind of cooperation, like ERA-NETs, are a great way of getting experts together: it facilitates learning and creates an opportunity; a chance, for scientists to come up with disruptive innovations. It is important that policy makers facilitate the organisation of such ‘chances’ for new, exciting research breakthroughs to happen.
At the end of the first day the University of Wageningen opened their experimental stables for a campus visit.
The 'Carus' Research Facility is a part of the Department of Animal Sciences of Wageningen University. The primary focus of Carus is to assist researchers and students to plan and conduct animal research. The facility provides high-tech research equipment such as climate respiration chambers, which can be adapted to the research needs and the involved animal species. These chambers are designed for a good animal welfare, giving the possibility to animals to see and hear each other. We visited these chambers and a dairy facility. The researchers showed interest in the possibilities offered by these facilities including technical details, and in their use for research projects having been conducted the last years.
Carus is suitable for fundamental research, is small-scaled and high-tech, and can provide accommodation for a wide range of animals (from fish to companion animals to cows). Research projects are conducted in the fields of sustainable animal husbandry, behaviour and welfare, biology and aquaculture.
The second day started with a visiti to a farm which participates in one of the SusAn co-funded projects “FreeWalk”.
Farm visit: Van Manen in Randwijk
This farm has been existing since generations and specialized in cattle farming in the eighties. The father and son work together. When the son came in 2008 in the farm, they needed to get 2 incomes. They decided to extend gradually the number of cows, from 60 to 120 in 2015. This also because they thought that after the suppression of the milk quota in 2015, the milk production would be limited in another way. This happened indeed with a system of phosphorus production rights to limit the manure production from 2015. They had to reduce the number of cows to 100, but try now to extend it again to be able to invest in 2 milk robots. Since a few years, son Gert-Jan is in charge of the choice of the bulls for artificial insemination, because this determines the type of cows he will have to manage. The production level is 9640 kg milk/year/cow. The family owns 32 ha grassland and rents also 32 ha (including 8 ha maize).
The cows are housed in cubicle housing and graze 6 months/year. We were grateful to the farmers that they let the cows go to the pasture for the first time this year during our visit. It was very nice and impressive for the group to be able to see the so-called “cows’ dance”.
Another choice was to begin with poultry (laying hens) production. The family invested in a poultry house with 2 floors: on the ground floor they have free range hens, on the first floor barn hens, in total 42.000. For this production, this farm was the first in the Netherlands getting 1 star with the Better Life Scheme (animal welfare), and also getting 2 stars (for the free range hens). They use different kind of enrichment materials to avoid feather picking. Beak trimming is forbidden in this country since the beginning of this year. The hens arrive at the farm at the age of 17 weeks and leave at the age of 85 weeks.
For the farmers, “balance” is a key word: in their activities, in how they manage their animals and between their farm and the surrounding.
SusAn NC Meeting: SusAn is developing a Common Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (CSRIA), which specifies research and innovation priorities by Member States (MS) and Associated Countries (AC). The CSRIA shall provide guidance and strategic perspectives associated with the coordination of European research and innovation to the MS, AC and EC and recommend priorities under Horizon Europe to support the development of sustainable animal production in Europe.
In the following workshop, researchers shared best practices in stakeholder involvement, why stakeholder engagement? What are your aims and objectives of the engagement? What are the benefits for the research team? And, for the stakeholders themselves? Have you analysed it before engagement? When did you engage them? At which stage of the project, at the very start? Those where questions were a guide to learn more from each other.
We want to build a long-lasting community for the communication activities of SusAn and its co-funded project. That’s why during the communication workshop, we discussed how to impulse the research projects results and dissemination activities through different channels.
Parallel session and Posters of the research projects:
SusAn members Presentation and Workshops: