OSU students get firsthand look at Dutch dairy industry

By Kyle Sharp

The cheese market in Alkmaar is open on Fridays. Cheese rounds are brought in by farmers, weighed in the old-fashioned weigh houses and sold. The cheese museum is open, and local cheeses and crafts are available for sale at the cheese market.

When a group of 10 Ohio State University students and two resident directors — Maurice Eastridge, Ohio State University professor of dairy nutrition, and his wife, Donna — visited the Netherlands this past summer for a Dairy Industry Study Abroad Program, they saw a lot of livestock on the farms they visited. But surprisingly, they saw plenty more almost everywhere they drove throughout the European country.

Because tourism is a big part of the Dutch tradition and people like to see the animals, Dutch farmers keep their animals out on pasture more than their U.S. counterparts. Right up to the city limits or even in the city, there would be animals out grazing, Maurice Eastridge said.

The students found it fascinating.

“I was very shocked to see sheep and cows grazing nearly along every road as we traveled throughout Holland,” said Brooke Barley, a junior human nutrition major from Canton. “Even in places where one would think animals would not normally be, there they were.

“I find this concept so intriguing because by having the animals so visible, it makes the Dutch so much more involved and aware of food production and of the well-being of the animals. Even though it is more difficult for farmers to keep their animals out in the pasture instead of in the barn, they keep them visible because it is such a large part of their culture.”

While the Dutch dairy industry has been under restrictions from the European Union (EU) quota system since the early 1980s, the production per farm has continually increased. In the Netherlands, the dairy industry, as of 2009, processed more than 11 million tons of milk per year in 52 plants. Of these 11 million tons of milk processed, more than half was put to use in creating cheese.

Milk produced in the Netherlands is used to make cheese, yogurt, butter and other milk products. Cheese production uses 55% of the milk, butter production 7%, non-skimmed milk powder 9%, condensed milk 6%, and milk and other products the other 34% of total milk produced.

The Dutch don’t just produce a lot of milk and dairy products, they consume a lot too. In the European Union, the Netherlands has the second highest consumption of cheese per person and is sixth in milk consumption. Cheese, milk and yogurt are staples.

“They don’t have to be reminded to eat three-a-day of dairy, like we do in the United States, they just automatically do it,” said Sarah Finney, a sophomore animal sciences major from Marshallville.

Finney can understand why, because she really enjoyed the Dutch dairy products.

“It was like real butter. It was fantastic,” she said. “And the yogurt was real smooth. I’m not usually a yogurt person, but it was really good.”

The strong dairy industry and its social relevance is why the Netherlands was chosen for the study abroad program this time and in the inaugural trip made in 2007. The first trip focused more on the prevalence and impact of Dutch dairy producers moving to the United States, Ohio in particular, but this trip was geared more toward the industry and cultural aspect, Eastridge said.

Ohio State University students who participated in the Netherlands Study Abroad trip are posed in front of one of the old-fashioned windmills located just outside of Amsterdam. Actually, the inside of the windmill had been renovated into a house, and a family was living in it. Pictured, from the left, are: Kristen Wright, Patrick Twining, Kevin Crist, Krizia Melendez, Katie Cole, Amelia Nyhart, Sarah Finney, Sabrinia Eick, Brooke Barley and Victoria Dawson.

“We developed this program with the idea of doing it at least every four years, so students could do it while they were here at Ohio State at some point,” he said. We’re still researching where we’ll go next time, probably in 2013 or 2014 — maybe China.”

Students earn five OSU credit hours for participating in the program. They took a one-hour course in the spring, which met for an hour each week of the quarter and talked about different aspects of the Netherlands compared to the United States, and Dutch dairy farms in the United States. They also visited a dairy farm. They then received four credit hours for the trip itself, June 13-25, which could be applied as electives in animal sciences, international studies or some other area, depending on what the students worked out with their advisors. The group visited six private dairy farms, two research farms, a sheep dairy and a goat dairy while in Holland and saw farms with various degrees of automation, a manure digester, robotic milking units, automated calf feeders, automated bedding dispensers, as well as an organic operation.

For more on this see the Country Life Section in the Mid-November issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.

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