Smart Farmer: A waste-free vision for pig farming

Raising pigs the circular way

Envisioning a waste-free economy, Ruud van Dijck is leading the way in sustainable pig farming. His work has earned him praise, but still too little financial compensation. Yet he perseveres: “We must ensure a future for the pig sector.”

‘Boer Ruud’ (Farmer Ruud) has a deep-rooted passion for his trade and animals. His mission: to make contemporary pig farming completely circular. This is no small task – competing against conventional livestock farming, Van Dijck faces challenges in the retail sector. But change is imminent.

Ruud van Dijck: “We have a great opportunity to show people something different.”

A truly local pig

“A pig from Boer Ruud is a regional pig, fed and raised on local resources,” says the cheerful farmer from Oirlo, in the Netherlands. “With us, the pig regains the place it used to have in our society. Long before there were things like certifications and environmental footprints, my father started feeding liquid residual streams to his pigs. He did this out of plain common sense – using your resources sparingly.

“I have extended this to local waste streams. Because of the growing world population, there are more waste streams emerging that are perfect for converting into high-quality food for humans. We already fill 70 percent of our daily pig rations with local residual products.”

“Expansion is not a priority – added value is”

- Ruud van Dijck, Boer Ruud

Loving ‘leftovers’

A new era has arrived, according to Van Dijck. Consumers are increasingly concerned about animal welfare, circularity and food scarcity. “By inviting supporters and opponents of animal husbandry to my farm, I have learned to look at farming in a completely different way. One thing has become abundantly clear: mass production no longer means more money. Expansion is not a priority – added value is.”

He adds that value by collecting the ‘leftovers’ from the region as a food source for his pigs. “Back in the day, pigs always got leftovers from the farmer’s dinner in their troughs. Once a year they would slaughter a pig fed entirely on leftovers. Food waste got an upgrade. This principle must be embraced by pig farmers again.

“We need more and more land to feed the world population, which means we should use less wheat, barley, corn and soy for animal feed. We don’t want a feed-food competition. On our farm we use waste streams from local beer and mustard production, and the dairy and baking industries. With brewer’s yeast, dairy and wheat concentrate, we can replace a large part of our soy requirement.”

Van Dijck may be feeding his pigs locally, but he is thinking globally. “It’s important: whole jungles are being cut down in the Amazon for soy cultivation. The economy in South America is not yet circular – none of the raw materials ever return to the region. It’s an untenable situation.”

The pigs eat food waste from local businesses. These french fries were fried too long, making them the wrong color to be sold in the supermarket.

Wellbeing and waste streams

That is why Van Dijck shifted the emphasis from the pig’s price to its distinctiveness. Something he accomplishes by doing business in a circular way and putting animal welfare first. “We have been antibiotic-free for years,” he explains. “Healthy pigs have enough resilience. Our pigs also have their tails intact, which is just one way you can see that they are in good condition. That is not only due to the well-balanced feed, but also because they have more living space.”

He has also made significant progress in manure processing, which has a big effect on his farm’s environmental impact. “We looked at the manure problem through the eyes of a crop farmer. We extract the water and use it to clean stables. And by removing the water from the manure, we have reduced our transportation needs by 55 percent.” The remaining manure, in concentrated form, is suitable for replacing artificial fertilizer. Fifteen percent of all natural gas extracted in the Netherlands is used in the production of normal artificial fertilizer, Van Dijck explains. “We, on the other hand, provide energy. From the residual fertilizer concentrate, approximately 15 percent of it is a phosphate-rich extract that is used in the production of green energy.”

“We get lots of praise, but too little financial compensation”

- Ruud van Dijck, Boer Ruud

The true cost of mass production

Boer Ruud’s innovations have aroused interest within the sector, but sales are not exactly booming yet. “We get lots of praise, but too little in the way of financial compensation,” confesses Van Dijck. “Supermarkets prefer a mass product: cheaply produced pork. And if you do not deliver that, ten others are willing to take your place. But that doesn’t work for us anymore. We want sustainable livestock farming.

“We’re seeing a turnaround among consumers, but also in politics. We are seeing a marked increase in the empathy for animals in society. It is important to prioritize animal welfare. I think if we continue in our current direction, ten years from now we will only have massive companies that are further and further away from what the consumer really wants.”

A cooperative chain

Van Dijck has big dreams to bring the sector around to his vision of pig farming. “I want to redesign the entire chain so that everyone is rewarded for what they contribute to a piece of sustainable pork. That is only possible if the entire chain cooperates.”

“I want the entire chain to be rewarded for sustainable pork”

- Ruud van Dijck, Boer Ruud

For several years, Boer Ruud has supplied pork to Keulen Vleeswaren, a meat production company, and Keurslagerij Keulen, a butcher. “Through them, I came into contact with many retail purchasers. We have noticed that more and more links of the chain between farmer and plate want a fair piece of meat. Consumers are often willing to pay more for this. So we have to make sure that this extra revenue is distributed fairly among everyone who contributes to sustainability.”

Van Dijck looks ahead: “We are already well ahead of the ambitions of Carola Schouten, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, who wants to speed up sustainable pig farming this year. I hope that others will follow our circular vision. Because the Dutch pig chain can use more fair trade.”