Walter Heidl: Sustainable and forward-looking – Great potential in agriculture and forestry

Bavaria may have become a high-tech location, but the rural idyll that is still very much shaped by agriculture, is regarded as a sacred part by the Bavarians. Sustainability has thus been implemented on fertile ground with Bavaria being the first federal state to introduce a ministry for the environment.

 

A wide choice of healthy and high-quality foods, a well-­maintained cultural landscape with lush meadows and tilled fields, vibrant rural areas with lively villages: in much of Bavaria, this is not a dream, but reality. The secret is multi-functional agriculture and forestry with different business focuses and forms, and farmers who cultivate the cultural landscape com­­prehensively and sustain­­ably. Agri­cul­ture thus not only characterises the way Bavaria looks, but also makes a signif­­icant contribution to quality of life in the state. The around 100,000 family-run agri­­culture and forestry busi­­nesses in Bavaria represent a future-orientated industry and make Bavaria an attractive location.

Agricultural business – agriculture, forestry and the sectors upstream and downstream of them – is a key part of the Bavarian economy. One in every seven jobs is directly linked to agriculture, forestry and food. With turnover of over 100 billion euros, agriculture is a strong future-orientated industry, espe­­­cially in rural areas. Agricultural exports from Bavaria have enjoyed constant growth in recent years, above the average growth rates for exports in the Bavarian economy. Bavarian agriculture is characterised by variety and is very diverse. Working for themselves in rural areas, our Bavarian farmers are actively involved in business, depending on their location, preferences and suitability. Their activities, both as main and secondary occupations, today extend far beyond arable farming and animal husbandry. Farmers today are service providers, direct marketers, hosts on holiday farms and energy suppliers, to name but a few examples.

 

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Agriculture is part of the solution to some of the central challenges of the 21st century. According to estimates from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organ­­ization (FAO), the world’s population will grow to around nine billion people by 2050. At the same time, people’s eating habits are changing, espe­­­cially in emerging nations such as India and China, where demand for highly processed products such as eggs, meat and sau­­sage products, as well as milk and dairy products, is grow­­ing. The FAO es­­ti­­mates that up to 70 per cent more food will be needed to feed the world’s expanding popu­­la­­tion. Bavar­­ian and European agriculture want to remain able to make their contribution to feeding the 500 million EU citizens and the world community. The means of production therefore need to be used in a more efficient and targeted way. This must also apply to agricultural areas, which is why the increasing use of areas needs to be stopped. While 3,800 square me­­t­res of arable land were available per capita in 1970, this has al­­ready sunk to less than 2,500 square metres. In Bavaria alone, over 500,000 hectares of agricultural land have been lost to residen­tial con­­struction and transport projects since 1970. This corre­­s­ponds to approximately the current area of arable and green land in the whole of Lower Bavaria. We urgently need to fundamentally rethink how we value and use agri­­cultural land.

Agriculture is also part of the solution when it comes to climate protection. At around six per cent, agriculture and for­­estry make up a comparatively small part of greenhouse gas emissions. This is because a large pro­portion of the CO2 emissions in food consumption are ab­­­­sorbed earlier during production. In agri­­culture and forestry, sustainability is therefore not just a modern catch­­word but an essential condition for maintaining the necessities of life. Farmers think in generations, not quar­­terly profits. Agri­­culture has a vested interest in cultivating the soil gently and sustainably and handling animals with care. Farmers in Bavaria meet the world’s strictest environ­­­mental and animal welfare regulations and receive compe­nsatory payments from the EU in return. In addition to these agri­­cultural environmental measures, Bavarian farmers also provide voluntary environmental services on one in three hectares.

Through its integration in EU policy, Ba­­varian agriculture is almost completely market-orientated. State inter­­vention and regulatory control in agri­­cultural policy are a thing of the past. But the competitiveness of Bavarian and Euro­­pean agriculture needs to be strength­­­ened further given the great global chal­­­lenges of food secur­ity, energy supply and the fight against climate change. Agriculture can play a key role in achiev­­ing the goal of the EU’s 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. “Green growth” for jobs and economic power, especially in ru­­ral areas, is the guiding theme to which agriculture and forestry are orientating themselves.

 

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The question of how the Common Euro­­pean Agri­­cul­­tural Policy (CAP) and therefore Bavarian agri­­culture will look going for­­ward affects not only farmers, but all of society. Soci­­ety rightly makes very high demands on agriculture – after all, it pro­­vides the ne­­cessities of life for all of us. At the same time, however, many people live in a world far away from the realities of agriculture and the work on the farms and in the fields and woods. The trend in public perceptions is to romanticise agri­­culture. We need a realistic and honest discussion. It is encouraging that, accord­­ing to a study by Euro­baro­­meter in 2010, over 90 per cent of Euro­­pean citizens consider agriculture and rural areas of vital importance for the future of Europe. The majority supported the goals of the Common Agri­­cul­­tural Policy. Over 80 per cent of the EU citizens asked were in favour of retaining the European agricultural payments­­. This shows that there is a broad consensus in society in favour of the goals and structure of the CAP. Plans for the CAP in the future need to build on this. Ba­­va­­ria’s farming families represent a type of agri­­culture that is sustainable, entre­preneur­­­­ial, efficient, con­­sumer-orientated, kind to animals and the environment, dynamic, progressive, com­­prehensive and diverse. And it will stay that way in the future.

The goal of my work as farmers’ president is to create farmers who are proud to be farmers, and a society that is proud of its farmers.

 

Heidl_WalterThe author was born in 1959 and gained a degree in Agricultural Engineering from Weihenstephan University of Applied Sciences. Married with children, his main job is as a farmer with his own farm in the Dingolfing-Landau district. Since 2012, Heidl has been President of the Baye­­rischer Bauernverband (Bavarian Farmers’ Association, BBV), a voluntary position.