German farmers are taking up the challenge of a major climate challenge

A coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals has ruled Berlin for twelve months. This quickly tightened the German climate targets further. For example, it has been determined that CO2 emissions in 2030 must have fallen by 65 percent compared to 1990. Previously, it was still 55 percent.

Eight action points have been established for the agricultural sector, each of which will lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions. According to Rukwied, the relatively mild reaction to this from many agricultural entrepreneurs is only logical. “Our farmers are suffering from the consequences of climate change. And we have opportunities to contribute to climate protection. Then we do it’.

In the same breath, Rukwied adds that farmers and gardeners cannot do this on their own. ‘We need incentives and political support for it.’ And that’s where it rubs quite a bit. For example, the German government is preparing a tax for energy companies. The reason is the sharp rise in oil and gas prices. Berlin compensates the households, but wants to recover this from the energy suppliers. Biogas will also have to deal with that.

Our farmers are suffering from the effects of climate change

Joachim Rukwied, chairman DBV

At the same time, biogas farmers are told to expand their capacity. It is not connected, according to the interest organizations of the biogas farmers. Demonstrating farmers have already moved to the Bundestag under the motto ‘Future instead of skimming’.

Supported by the farmers’ association DBV, an exemption from the tax for biogas is demanded. Only then can biogas farmers compete and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first reactions from the politicians were positive.

DBV chairman Rukwied (left) gave Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir a tour of his company this summer. © ANP

Meanwhile, many German farmers plan to invest in sustainable energy production. This is evident from the latest mood barometer for German agriculture. Investments in, for example, stables or machinery fall sharply, but a lot of money is made available for solar panels.

In the coming six months, it will involve 1.4 billion euros in agricultural investments in sustainable energy. Boerenbond DBV calls it a good development, but is also concerned about the near standstill of renovations and new construction in livestock farming. Chairman Joachim Rukwied calls it ‘alarming’ because progress must also be made in that area.

Payment for carbon storage in the soil as part of climate policy is gradually gaining attention. It is mainly the Boerenbonden that puts the subject in the spotlight. There is relatively little attention paid to this in the government’s plans.

Earth app

In the past two years, there has also been a start-up that is engaged in a better management of the soil, which increases the storage of carbon. Central is an app that guides participating farmers in their choices for a more regenerative agriculture.

This so-called Klim app provides information on eleven measures, from sowing perennial fodder crops to planting hedges and green areas. Participation is free. Farmers who register in the app what they actually do on their farm are promised compensation for the extra stored CO2.

The money mainly comes from companies, such as a bakery chain, who want to compensate for their CO2 emissions in this way. According to Klim 87, 87 of the nearly 900 farmers who now participate meet the payment conditions. For the time being, it is 30 euros per ton of extra stored CO2. This is expected to increase in the coming years.

Humidification of peatlands

One point of concern is the planned rewetting of peatlands. Dairy farmers fear that their business operations will become much more difficult. DBV insists on good consultation with the entrepreneurs involved and on offering alternative financial perspectives when milk production is no longer profitable.

The aspect that climate measures can be at the expense of food production has caused a lot of discussion in recent months. The war in Ukraine has made it clear that importing food from other countries can become impossible just like that. Can land be taken out of production for climate purposes?

The climate threatens farmers

Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir is very firm in this. His point of view is that climate change threatens the future of farmers and thus food production. Among other things, he points to the unprecedented drought that large parts of Germany have been confronted with. According to him, measures to put an end to this are inevitable. “We have to deal with all crises,” said politician van die Grünen, who refuses to talk about adjusting the policy.

DBV states that food production and climate policy are equivalent. Chairman Rukwied in particular has made a big turn in this regard. When he took office in 2012, he said that food always takes priority over climate. Now he is much more nuanced about this, also with reference to the experiences of recent years. ‘The weather is no longer what it was when I started as a farmer’, acknowledges the DBV chairman.

Not all German farmers agree with that strategy. For example, Freie Bauern strongly opposes climate measures for agriculture and horticulture. She calls this relatively new farmers’ organisation, which now has almost two thousand members, ‘meaningless’.

Indispensable part of the cycle

De Freie Bauern claims that farmers are an indispensable part of the cycle, where CO2 released by photosynthesis is again stored in biomass. Methane is not a problem either, because it is eventually converted back to CO2 in the atmosphere.

Farmer and national board member Ralf Ehrenberg recently stated that small-scale agriculture in Germany in particular operates almost climate-neutrally. According to him, the contribution that the agricultural sector can still make to climate policy is ‘microscopic’.

“To feed one person for a year, we need the equivalent of 50 liters of diesel. It’s no more than a tractor tank full,’ says Ehrenberg, who refuses to adjust his business operations. In his opinion, it is absurd to invest in CO2 storage from the farmers, as proposed by the Bauernverband. “Our grandfathers did it and we still do it now.”

More extreme weather

Meanwhile, no German farmer or gardener can deny that climate change is having an impact on his or her business. Global average temperatures have risen by 1.2 degrees since the Industrial Revolution. In Germany it is 1.6 degrees. In the early fifties there were summers with an average of three tropical days, now they occur about eleven times a year. In the past fifty years, the number of extreme weather events in our eastern neighbors has tripled.

We are the cause and the victim at the same time. But also part of the solution. We will act accordingly, Rukwied said. This position is well received by Minister of Agriculture Özdemir. ‘Now it’s about the politicians also backing this willingness to change. Only then can it become more sustainable and more ecological’, he told the German parliament during the discussion of the 2023 budget.

German action points for less greenhouse gas

The German government has set action points to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and horticulture in the coming years from around 61 million tons to 56 million tons of CO2 equivalents in 2030. However, if all action points are realized optimally, the final CO2 profit be even greater.

Less nitrogen and ammonia

Reduction of the nitrogen surplus, including reduction of ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions. This also includes less use of chemical fertilizers and improved nitrogen efficiency. Estimated yield: 1.9 to 7.5 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Generate more biogas

Farmers’ production of biogas from animal manure and agricultural residues must be expanded considerably. Estimated yield: 2 to 2.4 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Much more organic

From 10 percent to 30 percent less intensive organic farming and horticulture in 2030. It should reduce the use of artificial fertilizers. It is expected that the number of livestock on converted farms will decrease. Estimated yield: 0.4 to 1.2 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Emission reduction in conventional livestock farming

Further emission reduction in conventional livestock farming, especially by reducing the number of livestock. Target figures for different animal species are not mentioned. Estimated yield: 0.3 to 1 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Less carbon decomposition in peat soil

A stop to excavation and better protection of peatlands in northwestern Germany, among other things by raising the water level. Alternatives must be developed for the use of peat substrates in horticulture. Estimated yield: 3 to 8.5 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

On the way to a healthier earth

Maintain and where possible increase the humus content in the arable soil to store more CO2. In addition, German politicians want to focus on the preservation of permanent grassland. Estimated yield: 1 to 3 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Better energy efficiency

Increasing energy efficiency and savings in all areas of farm operations, including heating and fuel consumption of machinery. Estimated yield: 0.9 to 1.5 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

Less food waste

Promote more sustainable consumer behavior with lower meat consumption and stimulating the purchase of regional products. In addition, further reduction of food waste. Catering in state buildings must fulfill an exemplary function in this area. Estimated yield: 3 to 7.9 million tons of CO2 equivalents.

More varied and healthier forest

Quite a few farmers in Germany utilize large or small forest plots. Many German forests are now in a poor condition, according to surveys. Therefore, with a budget of 900 million euros, the government is committed to a more varied and healthier tree population that is less susceptible to damage and forest fires. As a result, this agricultural sector will be able to store more CO2 in the future.

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