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‘Dairy is so much more than butter, cheese and yoghurt’

12 July 2016
Text by Neeltje Miedema, Research & Valorisation

In late May, Minister of Economic Affairs Martijn van Dam officially opened the Dairy Campus in Leeuwarden . The Dairy Campus offers an inspiring meeting place for dairy stakeholders in search of research, teaching and innovation. Wendy Zuidema-Haans, D irector of Food & Dairy and Life Sciences & Technology at Van Hall Larenstein in Leeuwarden, was closely involved in the creation of the Dairy Campus. She is proud of her Frisian flagship, and proud of their collaboration with the University of Groningen and the UMCG.

‘If you compare the disciplines in which the northern Netherlands excels, the dairy sector stands out as one of the most innovative sectors in our region’s transition towards sustainability’, says Zuidema-Haans. ‘Nor is this particularly strange’, adds the Director, born and bred in Noord-Brabant and living in Minnertsga, Friesland since 2003. ‘Dairy plays an important role in our food chain and is an essential pillar of good health. But the production of dairy is based on farming, and the farming production process impacts on the environment, manure policy, CO2 emissions, and the quality of the groundwater. Society’s increasing demand for healthy and affordable products with a limited environmental impact can only be met through innovation. The Dairy Campus provides a unique incubator for such innovation.’

Wendy Zuidema
Wendy Zuidema

A good combination of knowledge

The key to innovation is collaboration with industry, the government, the consumers, and also by conducting research in collaboration with the northern Universities of Applied Sciences, the University of Groningen/Fryslân Campus, Dairy Campus and the UMCG. Zuidema-Haans: ‘It is truly inspiring to see our lecturers conduct fundamental and applied research together with University of Groningen and UMCG researchers. We use each other’s PhD candidates and students to generate new knowledge and develop new products. The separate knowledge institutions are both aware of how much we need the other to validate and valorize our own research results.’

Zuidema-Haansgives an example of successful collaboration between fundamental and applied research: the Food & Health Project initiated in collaboration with the UMCG. Zuidema: ‘Our lector ‘sustainable and healthy food in relation to welfare diseases’ at Van Hall Larenstein is working with the UMCG on a pilot for a study of the relationship between food and affluence-related diseases. This study focuses on the effects of food quality on people’s health in retirement homes.

The study focuses on the psychological perspective: how do people experience their food? We want to measure to what extent the quality of food or diet of people in retirement homes positively contributes to their health and experience. Does the food they are served give them pleasure? In this project we work with the food suppliers who prepare the food, the companies that ship the meals and/or the kitchen crews at the retirement homes where meals are prepared on site.’

‘Another UMCG PhD project that we are closely involved with in Leeuwarden investigates whether the substance carnitine can keep hospitalized people healthy for a longer period of time. Carnitine is an amino acid that plays an essential role in fat metabolism. It transports fatty acids to the mitochondria where they can be used as energy.’


The Food & Dairy and Life Sciences & Technology research groups of the Frisian capital also work closely together with Professor Lubbert Dijkhuizen, microbiologist at the University of Groningen and Scientific Director of the Carbohydrate Competence Center in Groningen (CCC) and the Protein Competence Center (PCC) in Wageningen. CCC and PCC combine outstanding knowledge of carbohydrates and proteins, and work in close collaboration with food companies, feed producers and knowledge institutions on demand-driven research. Zuidema-Haans: ‘We have long-term plans for creating our own Dairy Competence Center.’

She is also co-initiator of the Bio-Economy Region Northern Netherlands (BERNN) platform involving University of Groningen and UMCG researchers. BERNN has its roots in the North4Bio project, a strategic policy plan intended to create new green routes in the northern Netherlands. Zuidema-Haans: ‘In the context of BERNN, our focus lies on the reuse of products and materials so as to preserve the value of raw materials. BERNN allows us to conduct research on gas refineries and how to extract maximum value from proteins. A little-known fact is that thanks to our substantial supply of grass and grass-related raw materials, the northern Netherlands is the largest amino acid producer in Europe. This gives our project a cross-border allure. We are trying to obtain funding for this project in the context of the European INTERREG programme.’

Opening Dairy Campus by Martijn van Dam, Dutch Minister for Agriculture. Source: Diairy Campus website
Opening Dairy Campus by Martijn van Dam, Dutch Minister for Agriculture. Source: Diairy Campus website

Modern farming

Dairy or smart farming seems to cover a wide range of research. Wendy Zuidema-Haans smiles: ‘Most consumers associate dairy with products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt. For researchers and farmers, it is a much broader concept. Dairy concern Friesland Campina describes the dairy chain as stretching “from grass to glass”; in America they use the slogan “from stable to table”.’

From ‘stable to table’ covers not only the production of milk and the use of milk as a raw material in a range of products, it also considers the position of the farmer as an entrepreneur by allowing him or her to farm in the most sustainable way possible. Research and use of new technology is intended to support the farmers of the future in this process. Zuidema-Haans: ‘By making use of sensor technology, we are able to measure processes and fine-tune the milk production process so that milk production is easier to manage and production can be optimized further. This allows farmers to have higher revenues while maintaining the same production level.’

Starting point

So there’s plenty to do in Leeuwarden. Zuidema-Haans: ‘The Dairy Campus offers dairy stakeholders an ideal location for developing a regionally based draft plan for an optimal dairy industry, and the opportunity to use research and innovation to make area-specific adjustments to further improve their plan. At the laboratories at Van Hall lArenstein we show the processing part. We often welcome visitors from China who come to our campus to see how we organize the dairy chain in the northern Netherlands. Sometimes they go home and copy-paste a very region-specific plan to their own country in a completely different setting, which of course doesn’t work at all. Nor can yousimply export a Dutch cow to India, where the climate and soil conditions are completely different. Doing so would immediately reduce milk production. Knowing how to deploy knowledge in other countries under different conditions is one of the pioneering qualities of the Netherlands, with the northern Netherlands and the Dairy Campus playing a leading role.’

More information

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.18 p.m.

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