An Overview of Dairy Production and Consumption in the Northwest European Delta Metropolis

Research overview

The Northwest European Delta Metropolis (NWEDM) is a highly urbanized region with a predicted urbanization trend of 87% by the year 2050. For this region dairy, beef and veal production is an important (net exporting) economical factor. However, this region lacks an overall overview of dairy production and movement specifically in regards to cows in general. Five different countries and their particular regions are analysed for their dairy production, consumption, efficiency and the countries import and export data. This study aims to determine the dairy balance of the NWEDM in regards to its self-sufficiency. After finding an overall negative milk balance, it is determined that there is a shortage of milk equivalents. The NWEDM imports milk from outside the region to optimize its processing capacity in order to strengthen its worldwide export position on dairy and beef products.

The NWEDM produces enough milk for consumption needs within the NWEDM, which leads the metropolis to being self-sufficient with enough in excess to export. The high intensity of farms correlates with high amounts of grasslands and large cow populations. This high intensity leads to a large amount of manure and therefore nitrogen excretion which leads to the NWEDM having an overall surplus of nitrogen production even after exportation of manure products towards the wine orchards in for instance France. In relation to feed ingredients, not enough information was found to answer the questions if we can replace them with local commodities, and if so how to deal with competing sectors for the same commodities in this research. 

View from the WMFC team

We often experience the argument about Dutch Agriculture as such: “In the political discussion that followed the so-called Nitrogen Crisis in Dutch policy, many questioned the large export of agricultural products by The Netherlands. Why should the Netherlands be providing food to so many outside the country while at the same time local activities are being shut down because of too large nitrogen deposits on nature reserves, of which more than 40% are being emitted by agriculture.”

This type of reasoning often stands from a Dutch perspective. If we look at it from the perspective of Northwest European Delta Metropolis (NWEDM). We would find out that this reasoning ignores the fact that a large part of the Dutch food exports is directed to NWEDM, a local for local production on the scale of European regions. NWEDM is an urban cluster that is beyond country boundaries of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and France (shown in the figure below).

Therefore, the goal of this ACT project was to zoom out and to primally investigate the milk balance and to look into other relevant issues such as nitrogen balance, farm scales, and land use on the level of NWEDM.


Based on the calculation from the team, it shows that, in the NWEDM region, the dairy production efficiency goes up with the scale of the farm. Also, there are a lot of dairies “import and export” activities happening within the NWEDM. From the NWEDM perspective, there are more exporting than importing, which makes the milk balance negative.


From the perspective of the nitrogen balance, it shows some interesting results. Netherlands has significant nitrogen surplus due to large amount of animal production and limited land space. On the other hand, the south part, especially the French part, of the NWEDM region has significant nitrogen shortage due to large-scale crop production. Animal manure is an ideal source of organic matter for soil health and nutrient for plants production. 

WMFC team thinks that the Nitrogen challenge should not / cannot be solved only within the boundary of the Netherland. Animal manure should not be regarded as problem but products. Better manure collection and processing approaches are needed to turn problems into valuable products, meanwhile benefiting the environment. Circular thinking, mindful of all resources, is the key of WMFC to design efficient and sustainable agri-food systems.


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