The war in Ukraine and environmental protection – how farmers look to the future

Carl Neusten is a farmer in the municipality of Dornom. Wheat, rapeseed, and oats thrive here in the rich swamps of water, opposite the island of Baltrum on the North Sea coast. This year, Noosten is testing the cultivation of peas and lupine for human consumption as well as forage crops. And he could work on more land to boost local production a bit – if only he was allowed to.

“Don’t throw everything you can! According to the motto, we are now producing to the last corner – but I expect people will think more strategically in the future: What do we need to take care of ourselves?”

Noosten out of jars. Dig a broad bean sprout from the ground. Many farmers also wish to grow the protein-rich forage crop in the so-called ecological focus area. This is the part of the arable land where large farms have to meet special EU requirements to protect the environment in the future. For example, only some species and grazing animals are allowed there. Pesticides are also taboo.

“This reduces the field bean yield significantly! If this is still allowed, this year, it can be used. And it can prevent the broad bean from dying of chocolate disease as it is called for example.”

There are exceptions to EU law, but Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir of the Greens decided not to use plant protection on organic land. The federal government doesn’t want to see grain grown there either. Still negotiating the short-term management of the wastelands.

From next year, farmers in Germany will also have to set aside four percent of their arable land so they can receive direct payments. Organized farmers are calling for this regulation, controversial even among conservationists, to be suspended for the time being or withdrawn entirely – especially since it is stricter than European requirements. Neusten also sees no environmental benefit in letting more than a dozen hectares of his arable land rest for a year. This will rather lead to neglect.

“It will hurt my soul because only then will the weeds come in, which actually causes more trouble. I believe that networking the livelies through the watery shoulder can bring more.”

Farmers in Lower Saxony are rewarded for creating flower slides of this kind along streams, canals and rivers. In these retreat areas, which are about five meters wide, they are not allowed to fertilize or apply any plant protection. Noosten also designed the areas of the trenches in a natural way.

“We have vetch, ceradilla, alfalfa—and they all didn’t freeze. What went was sunflowers. And maybe deer got it in the winter.”

Against the backdrop of the impending referendum, farmers and environmental organizations have agreed on a common agenda for more organic farming and species protection in 2019. Neusten applauds the spirit of collaboration in the agenda.

“To share ideas—and pay nothing through regulation. To tell us what environmental organizations want and tell environmental organizations what is possible. Ultimately, those years we fought with NABU or BUND were lost years for prairie breeders.”

The threatening signs of climate change are most evident here on the coast. Dams are being raised at great cost, and with sea level, the salt content of groundwater will also rise. Noosten stresses that there is no contemplation of throwing what has been done overboard. But a traditional farmer doesn’t go a long way with a liquid manure spreader alone. He had to buy almost half of the expensive nutrients.

180 cows kept in the barn of Holger Jaben. Nessmergrode Livestock Farms produces non-GMO milk and therefore does not use soy. However, so far a significant part of the animal feed produced organically comes from Ukraine. The price of rapeseed powder, for example, has tripled since the Russian attack on the country. Fortunately, says Gabin, in addition to the world market, there is also the neighbor who has beans in his field.

“In return, I give liquid manure that is spread over his land as nutrients.”

Regional cooperation also helps Noosten to absorb at least part of the rapidly increasing production costs: nitrogen fertilizers, produced by natural gas in an energy-intensive way in Russia in particular, were scarce even before the war.

It will probably be much worse next year because no mineral fertilizer is produced. And when you know I definitely have a certain part, it feels good.”

But isn’t meat consumption a problem in itself?

“Personally, I’m not someone who should eat meat on a plate every day, but I don’t think it makes sense to reduce animal stocks because of this.”

At least here in East Friesland, where there are the highest numbers of grazing cows, Gaben retreats.

“Here in the cows, we mainly grow the grasslands. The grass cannot be used by humans. So we have a great use of these grasslands through the cow, as we produce good food from there. And I see it the same way, at least in fattening cattle, that these animals It does not compete with human nutrition.”

Now, in a crisis, there are many things to consider. Farmer Carl Neusten urges politicians not to slow down in decisions for too long.

“This summer I need to know what’s allowed and my work next year. Otherwise, it’s too late!”

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