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"I've been working the farm since I was 16 years old. I’m 55 now," Christian Boeuf says softly, his clear blue eyes and broad smile reflecting the quiet pride in four decades of hard work.

"Before that, it was my father’s. It’s definitely been a family tradition. But in the future?" He pauses and shakes his head. "I don’t know whether the younger generation will continue with it. It’s a delicate situation."

Farmer Christian Boeuf
Swiss dairy farmer Christian Boeuf helps supply the biogas plant with cow manure

Planning ahead is something Christian sees as a fundamental part of his job. And while he isn’t sure his nephew will take over the family farm, he can make sure that the land remains as healthy and fertile as it’s always been.

So when he was offered the chance to take part in a new scheme to turn manure from his cattle into green energy and fertiliser, it was an easy decision.

His cows simply continue to do what cows do. But their waste is now part of a cutting-edge green power generation scheme.

Coffee’s contribution

The arrangement came about after Nestlé Waters carried out a study into any potential damage that could be caused to the Henniez water source in Switzerland.

With excess farm waste a possible source of ammonia pollution, plans were drawn up to provide an alternative use for it. With the collaboration of Groupe E Greenwatt, a biogas facility to produce renewable energy was built next to Nestlé’s bottling plant.

25,000 tonnes
of manure is turned into green energy and fertiliser each year

Each year, a network of 27 Swiss dairy farmers provides over 25 thousand tonnes of manure for the plant. It is mixed with coffee waste from local Nespresso and Nescafé factories before being fed into the biogas factory. As the material decomposes, natural gas is generated which is then burned to generate electricity.

As well as providing all of the heat needed for the bottling factory, excess electricity generated from the project is sold to the Swiss grid.

Since the biogas plant opened, the Henniez facility has cut its CO2 emissions in half.

Quid pro quo

What’s left after the material has broken down is a highly sought-after fertiliser which is organic and nutrient-dense. The farmers are given this back to use on their crops, meaning they have to buy much less chemical fertiliser.

The natural fertiliser is easily absorbed by plants and produces fewer ammonia emissions for the environment. Christian Boeuf has discovered that because of the fertiliser’s organic quality, he no longer needs to use fungicides on his crops.

This exchange is cost neutral and helps create sustainable farming - recovering valuable nutrients that would be otherwise lost.

The project is already having a positive impact. We value a fertiliser that is less harmful. We can grow better crops. It also means we can save electricity and gas Christian Bœuf, Farmer

Mr Boeuf describes the partnership with Nestlé Waters as hugely rewarding, knowing that the manure is used to make green energy.

"The project is already having a positive impact. We value a fertiliser that is less harmful. We can grow better crops. It also means we can save electricity and gas".

Win-win

Another of the local farmers providing tonnes of manure is Laurent Gentil who has worked on his property for 30 years.

Farmer Laurent Gentil
Local dairy farmer Laurent Gentil and his son check up on their cattle

He says he is proud to be part of a collaborative project that should help his farming yields and the agro-biodiversity of his land.

"We no longer have the problem of needing to empty the manure pits quickly because it is taken to the biogas plant for us," says Mr Gentil.

Supporting sustainable agriculture in this eco project is good for the farmers, the environment, and for keeping the Henniez source pure. It also brings the community together in a way which benefits everyone.

"It wasn’t easy in the beginning," according to Michel Marchuard, Henniez Sustainability Manger.

"We had to win the farmers’ trust and convince them that we weren’t going to harm their livelihoods. But now it’s a great partnership – a win-win."

 

In pictures

Powering the plant
The cows provide over 25 thousand tonnes of manure for the biogas plant every year. Cow power!
A farmer’s best friend
Christian Boeuf and Dolly, his Border Collie. Christian is one of 27 Swiss dairy farmers helping supply the biogas plant with cow manure. He has lived and worked on the farm in la Broye his whole life.
A family tradition
Like father, like son. Laurent Gentil and his son checking up on their cattle. Laurent has been working on his family farm for 30 years.
Valuable waste
Once this pile of manure would go directly onto the fields. Not very environmentally friendly. But now it is collected and delivered to the biogas plant. The CO2 produced from manure helps fuel the massive digester in the biogas plant.
Recycled coffee, anyone?
Marc Menoud of Group E Greenwatt, our partner in the biogas operation, inside the new facility. Excess coffee waste from the nearby Nescafé and Nespresso factories help fuel the biogas digester.
Manure + coffee grounds = renewable energy
Henniez Sustainability Manger, Michel Marcuard and Marc Menoud of Group E Greenwatt visiting the biogas plant. The generator uses manure and excess coffee waste to produce heat for the Henniez bottling plant and electricity for the Swiss power grid.
Investing in the future
Local farmers invested in new storage tanks which hold the organic fertiliser they receive in exchange for the manure.
Back to basics
The project starts and ends on the farm. Organic fertiliser made from cow manure is returned to the farmers who then use it to grow crops.