The Big Food and Agriculture Challenge

How biorefinery is set to boost the circular economy and efficient meat and dairy production

Diets revolving around meat and dairy are on the rise throughout the developing world. This will undoubtedly impact the world’s resources, and as we look towards 2050 and two billion more mouths to feed, new food production solutions are becoming increasingly urgent.

When we talk about meat and dairy production, we are talking about an industry sector involving large populations of livestock – particularly in Europe. Fodder production to sustain this population currently relies on soy and crop imports from South America. The growth of soy has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on our natural biodiversity, but now for the first time, we are able to demonstrate how biorefinery can close the circular economy loop to enable fodder to be produced in the same area as livestock.

Small-scale Biorefinery
A specialist team made up of researchers from Wageningen University, CC Advies and Royal HaskoningDHV has developed a breakthrough model based on small-scale farms. Team leader Johan Sanders explains: “We have to start producing the protein we need for livestock feed in Europe and reduce our reliance on soy imports. In the past, we didn’t think there was enough value in grass as fodder for the process to be viable. Now we know that small-scale biorefinery systems can enable a productive and valuable fodder industry by separating and pre-treating grass fibres to make highly digestible animal feed. This means animals need less food which reduces manure production and the need for imported feed.”

Perfect Composition and Added Benefits
This small scale biorefinery helps optimise and deliver fodder in the right composition for pigs as well as cattle. It helps produce meat and milk in a highly efficient way, producing little waste and retaining animal health.  
Sanders again: “As well as a massive reduction in the international transport of animal feed, the entire process produces biogas and ethanol which can be re-used or sold on the open market. In addition to these obvious benefits, our grassland biodiversity also prospers. Once we intensify grass production at a local farm level, the remainder of our European grassland can be kept wild which can help increase the diversity of plant and animal life.”

Pioneering Innovation
This small-scale bio-based circular economy has been described by some as a win-win-win situation; benefitting farmers, the economy and our biodiversity. But we are at the start of the process; farmers, feed producers and local and national government will need to get on board quickly to realise the true benefits of this sustainable approach and gain from all the innovative new technology can offer. 

In their 2014 report ‘Meat Atlas’, Friends of the Earth suggests that appropriate use of agricultural land and new innovations in livestock feed could have environmental benefits. Sustainable biorefinery practices like this are going to become more important in securing a bright future for global food production.