VCM vision statement on the transition in manure processing

Both on European as Flemish policy level, the evolution towards a circular economy is on top of the agenda. This evolution has also influence on the manure processing sector in Flanders and elsewhere, where nutrient recuperation and production of other products from manure grow in importance. Nevertheless, the available techniques, the current legislation and market, the economic feasibility of the techniques and the public awareness and public opinion are not yet well in line.

The realization of a transition in de manure processing sector towards a circular economy in Flanders asks efforts from both the government as well as the sector. Therefore, the Flemish Coordination centre for Manure Processing (“Vlaams Coördinatiecentrum voor Mestverwerking”, also known as VCM) founded the workgroup ‘Transition in manure processing’ to discuss the ideal transition towards an circular economy and the way to increase the sustainability of the manure processing sector in Flanders. From discussions and brainstorm sessions in the context of this workgroup, a vision statement grew. This vision statement was presented at the cabinet of the Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Minister Schauvliege. On July 6, 2017, the vision statement was made public. In this vision statement, de necessary recommendations and possible bottlenecks are discussed.

VCM emphasizes the utter importance of the Flemish manure processing to judiciously process the Flemish manure surplus, in order to allow a balanced nutrient use in the Flemish agriculture and to prevent losses of nutrients from agricultural sources, without the necessity to reduce the production of nutrients. A transition of the manure processing towards a circular economy, by means of nutrient – and resource recuperation, can result in

  • a replacement of mineral fertilizers by manure processing products
  • a reduction of the import of non-renewable resources such as phosphate rock
  • the production of resources (proteins, fibers,…) from manure
  • the valorization of organic carbon from manure on Flemish agricultural fields. 

Besides, additional sustainability criteria can be coupled to the initial objectives of Flemish manure processing such as

  • attention for soil, air and water quality as well as the carbon footprint of the Flemish agricultural sector
  • the increase of the public awareness and opinion on manure processing in Flanders and, of utmost importance
  • the economic feasibility of the transition

The transition is possible by adaptation of the current available techniques, or by the development of circular and sustainable techniques. Hereby, it is very important to check the environmental – and system impact of current and new techniques based on LCA analyses.

A long term policy view is crucial to support the transition. It is important for the government to stimulate innovation by providing possibilities for experiments and pilot studies, besides tackling the bottlenecks such as the status of the end products (Nitrate Directive). Possibly, subsidies can be provided to facilitate the switch to the new techniques, but above all, the encouragement of the use of the high quality end products is crucial. This can be achieved by supporting the judicious use of Manure on Demand products and by encouraging the export within Europe.

VCM can help to enhance the sustainability and circularity of the current manure processing, indeed within realistic economic, ecological and social conditions. In a next step, an action plan can be developed based on this vision statement, with several milestones and predetermined, with both interim evaluation and interim targets.