When the agriculture ministers from the federal and state levels meet for their autumn conference these days, the future will also stand Common agricultural policy (CAP) on the agenda in Europe. So far, this does not provide for any funding to give dairy cows a chance on pasture. Exactly that, one Pasture bonuses for dairy cows are called for by the Working Group on Farming Agriculture (AbL), the Federal Association of German Dairy Farmers and the Land Creates Connection organization, because: animals on pasture are good for the climate, for soil and drinking water protection, for animals and people, i.e. sustainable in the Meaning of the European Green Deal.
Im Friday-The conversation is explained by Ottmar Ilchmann, dairy farmer from East Friesland and state chairman of the AbL Lower Saxony / Bremen, as well as Jann-Harro Petersen, dairy farmer from North Friesland and spokesman for the working group Milk from Land Creates Connection, their demand for a grazing bonus for dairy cows. That doesn’t go far enough for Nicolas Schoof, scientist at the Department of Vegetation Science at the University of Freiburg.
Friday: Mr. Ilchmann, your 60 dairy cows graze on the pastures around your farm in Rhauderfehn in East Frisia in summer. For this you are demanding a grazing bonus from the EU. Why?
Ottmar Ilchmann: The common agricultural policy of the European Union is currently being reformed, it should become greener and more sustainable, and in the negotiations on national implementation in Germany it turns out that the so-called Eco-Schemes – as the new additional funds for public services are called, that the EU pays to farmers – does not give any offers to dairy farmers who let their cows out to pasture. We want to change that.
Mr Petersen, you are a farmer on the Eiderstedt peninsula in Schleswig-Holstein and spokesman for the Working Group Milk from Land Creates Connection – together with your colleagues from the BDM and the AbL you have now worked out proposals for a grazing bonus. Why do you need this premium?
Jann-Harro Petersen: The new agricultural policy does not run parallel to the sustainability goals set by the European Green Deal. It is a major shortcoming that the ambitious goals of the Green Deal are not politically supported. On my farm we have 90 percent permanent grassland, some of the grazing is with 200-year-old sward, which scientists repeatedly refer to as particularly valuable, but I have no way of receiving funding for it.
In any case, arable farming would not be possible on your soil, and in other areas where dairy cows are still grazing, these areas could hardly be used otherwise because they are too high, such as the alpine pastures, or too steep, like some pastures in the low mountain ranges. So why should the EU spend money on it?
Jann-Harro Petersen: We pasture milk farmers have significant economic disadvantages compared to stable keeping, although our common good is obvious. In the barn, the high-performance cows receive constant, even rations all year round. As a result, they have a higher milk yield – but this is bought at the cost of a higher expenditure of resources. The new agricultural subsidies intensify the already existing economic disadvantages. In a nutshell: Those who feed from the field can use eco-schemes, for example for flower strips. But if I let the cows graze, I can’t. Actually a clear political incentive to feed field forage, for example corn silage.
Large-scale maize cultivation is ecologically questionable because it is sown so late, it takes a long time for it to cover the soil, which makes it prone to erosion. And it is of no use to biological diversity either.
Jann-Harro Petersen: For forage cultivation in general, a lot of machine use is necessary. The grass has to be cut, fetched from the pasture and pressed into foil and finally driven in small portions to the feeding table in the stable. Grazing cows pick their own forage in summer, so it uses fewer resources. But because the grass in the pasture does not grow evenly all year round, grazing cows usually give less milk. Grazing is a step away from the turbo cow.
Then has the EU forgotten the grassland?
Ottmar Ilchmann: Not quite. Eco-schemes, i.e. additional funding opportunities, are planned for extensive grassland, i.e. for areas that are very little fertilized and on which very few animals graze. But that only fits for suckler cow farmers with large areas, dairy farmers cannot meet these requirements.
Jann-Harro Petersen: The German Farmers’ Association had proposed a flat-rate climate bonus that should be paid for all green areas, including for intensively fertilized arable grass, which is cut five or six times a year and brought into the stable as fodder. But this proposal will not get approval from the Federal Environment Ministry.
“From the point of view of animal welfare, grazing is absolutely to be welcomed”
Land creates connections is the new farmers ‘organization that emerged from the farmers’ protests of recent years. At many of your demos, Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze was literally insulted as an enemy of farmers, as if she were to blame for their difficult economic situation.
Jann-Harro Petersen: We have to make progress there. One can clearly say: “We wanted to achieve something, namely a climate bonus, but Ms. Schulze and her State Secretary, Mr. Flasbarth, are to blame for not getting it.” But instead we are trying to find something that is capable of reaching a consensus. Just a grazing bonus for dairy farmers.
Mr. Schoof, you do research at the Chair of Vegetation Science at the University of Freiburg and keep warning of the disastrous effects of the current agricultural system. Can the pasture bonus help?
Nicholas Schoof: Dairy farmers who still let their animals graze are the losers of the upcoming agrarian reform compared to other farmers. And from the point of view of animal welfare, grazing animal husbandry is definitely to be welcomed; the grazing bonus would support that. In addition, grazing animals are simply part of our cultural landscape. But EU law always requires two positive effects for the general good for such measures. If this is to be biodiversity or climate protection, that is not enough.
Why not? Studies repeatedly show that permanent grassland, i.e. old pastures, have positive effects – on soil, water, biodiversity and the climate.
Nicholas Schoof: But this does not apply without preconditions. The associations could, for example, propose an upper limit on the number of animals per unit area. If the animal stock is open at the top, it is difficult to argue with positive effects for biological diversity and climate protection. Too many animals in one area can destroy the sward, which in turn would have a negative impact on the ecosystem services of the pasture.
Mr. Ilchmann, Mr. Petersen, what do you think of that? If grazing bonus, then right?
Ottmar Ilchmann: Pasture husbandry is endangered by its economic disadvantage compared to stable husbandry. Once a company has given up on it, there is usually no turning back. We therefore advocate saving grazing through a comparatively low-threshold eco-scheme. We can then very well imagine supplementary regional programs that build on this and contain significantly more demanding criteria, for example also an upper limit for the number of animals per area.
Mr Schoof, your claims cannot be financed in the current system, what suggestions do you have?
Nicholas Schoof: Many businesses today have to pay excessive lease prices. In recent years, land owners have adjusted the lease prices in many places to the amount paid out for agricultural subsidies, which are still largely paid out at a flat rate per hectare. Agricultural subsidies have therefore become a subsidy program for land owners in many regions – instead of for all farms. In other words: the lease prices would also have to be controlled in order to relieve a large number of farms and to guarantee a fairer distribution of agricultural subsidies.
What are the chances that you will be successful with your request for a grazing bonus?
Ottmar Ilchmann: In my opinion, ecological promotion of grazing could be a common denominator that both farmers and environmental protection organizations can agree on. A great advantage is the good image and the high level of support given to cows in the pasture, also among the population. In addition, grazing dairy farms have far fewer animals per area – this also protects the groundwater, among other things. The many other advantages for the climate, biodiversity, landscape conservation, environmental protection and animal welfare are so obvious that even politics cannot ignore them.
Mr Petersen, how do you explain that the pasture milk farmers have not yet been considered when they have all the arguments on your side?
Jann-Harro Petersen: There are also economic interests: A high proportion of grazing means a decline in sales in the upstream and downstream areas, for example I buy less concentrated feed and deliver less milk.
Mr Schoof, can the common European agricultural policy be saved at all?
Nicholas Schoof: I very much regret that so many farmers are in such a disastrous situation. I find it admirable and worthy of support that many of them still contribute constructively, although their work performance has definitely not been in proportion to their income for many years. At the same time, we absolutely need more sustainable land use. There is scientific consensus that the current funding structure does not generally provide the necessary incentives for this.
And then what?
Nicholas Schoof: The German Association for Landscape Management and the AbL have developed what I believe to be fairer agricultural funding: a bonus system that only pays for the common good of the farms. With it, more animal welfare and environmental protection could not only be achieved, but also better rewarded.