Skip to main content

Get out of your bubble

Interview with german farmers about challenges and personal goals

by Sarah Liebigt

In order to meet today‘s challenges in agriculture, you need to stay grounded - literally. Farm & Food spoke with Johanna Buntz and Dr. Thomas Gäbert about the diversity on german fields, drones and topsoils.

All day long* we are talking about agriculture and nutrition. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Buntz: I stayed at the hotel so I had to eat what was offered there. I had cereals, but I don't know where they came from. It's often a problem that canteen kitchens or canteens offer what's cheap right now. It is not a question of where the products come from. I once wanted cooperate with a canteen, but I was told that it wasn't worth it, that this would create additional costs that nobody would pay at the end of the day.

Tomorrow's agriculture can only exist in symbiosis of technological progress and social responsibility. Do you agree and how can this symbiosis look like?

Buntz: Yes, I agree. However, we must not lose sight of the agricultural production. Despite all the smartphones and displays in the tractor, you still have to get out and take the spade and look into the soil. It's important to maintain a feeling for soil and animals.

Gäbert: Over the past two years we have seen that it is quite tough for farmers to operate in a changing climate. We have different ways of adapting to this challenge. Our tractor operators, for example, are all farmers who, in addition to controlling technology, also have an idea of the soil. They can work site- and demand-specifically.

Do you think it is possible to develop an overall concept? What could it look like?

Buntz: Developing a common approach with politicians, farmers and consumers is ambitious. All stakeholders should be involved, and I don't know whether there is a common denominator. In any case, that would be a longer-term goal. 

Gäbert: In the meantime, networks have become very important. We farmers sat together yesterday* and exchanged ideas. The diversity of agriculture in Germany is enormous. Very different things have been developed in different regions.

For example, I spoke with a colleague from North Rhine-Westphalia who successfully implemented a project to see if it could also be implemented in Brandenburg. These meetings are important and we get out of our own bubble.

What challenge do you see next? What about the fields in 30 years' time? Robots? Drones? No more plants, only indoor farming?

Buntz: In agriculture in general? Or at my front yard?

Let’s start on your farm.

Buntz: Climate change. It will affect us all.  We were relatively lucky last year, we are in the low mountain range, we had a lot of rain, relatively. Other regions in Germany have completely different problems.

Gäbert: The landscapes in Germany, also within Brandenburg, are so diverse: We farm on a ground moraine, flat, sandy soils, we have 30 cm of topsoil, while in the Oderbruch it is rather alluvial soils or clay soils. We have to develop concepts that guarantee sustainable agriculture and, above all, sustainable land use.

For us, for me, the big keyword is to increase the topsoil of the field: use plants with deeper roots, humus enrichment. Humus soils and organic carbon are also an important tool in the arable farming strategy. In Oderbruch and Uckermark, completely different things are important.

Buntz: Biodiversity, we have heard very often today [at the congress, e.n.]: this concerns all farmers. Regardless of whether you farm in a small garden or not, there too you have to do something for the beneficial insects. 

And if you think more global?

Buntz: As for a worldwide view: We do a lot in Germany for climate protection and in agriculture, we want to move towards organic farming, but this has not yet arrived worldwide. Ultimately, we live on one planet, we should work together. At the moment, the politics as they are being conducted in America are making things more difficult and I don't know how the Asians are moving on. It would be desirable for us to tackle this together.

We only have one planet, we should preserve it for our children and our children's children.

* Farm & Food met Johanna Buntz and Dr. Thomas Gäbert at a conference in Berlin in June 2019.