January 20, 2020
International Congress Berlin
Farm & Food 4.0

27. August 2019

Farmers need better PR

Georg Mayerhofer on new value chains and political influences

By Sarah Liebigt

Farmers can benefit from cooperative approaches and independent brands, says Georg Mayerhofer, an innovative farmer from the Passau region.

Farm & Food: Agriculture is often criticised when it comes to environmental protection, biodiversity and climate protection. How can the cause of the problem become the problem solver?
Mayerhofer: This question is a classic example of how society and agriculture are drifting apart. It must become clear to us again that there will always be a certain intervention in nature if we want to produce food. This will always remain as such.

Now we must try to further develop this together in society: On the one hand, to keep the interference in nature as small as possible, i.e. for example also saving fertilisers and pesticides, and on the other hand, to explain to people that there will always be an interference in nature. Agriculture cannot produce sustainably without affecting nature. This includes a social dialogue that demonstrates this.

Regional products are a solid trend. Which concepts/projects do you develop as a company to participate in this added value?
We have the saying “regional is the new bio”. I try to develop regional markets. This is not easy, because for decades we have done exactly the opposite. We have always relied on high volumes and exports. And now it is difficult to win back the markets for agriculture.

Every farmer who tries to rebuild his own market knows that this means a lot of work, a lot of communication. Not every company can work regionally. But for smaller companies in particular, the regional market is definitely interesting. In my opinion, this is part of the future of agriculture.

What mistakes does agriculture make and how do you deal with them?
Agriculture sometimes refuses to develop. We often stick to what is at the moment without looking ahead. I believe it is important that the willingness to develop further should move into agriculture. Environmental protection is our duty. We work, we work with nature. That is a good thing, and we have to prove it by looking positively to the future.

What mistakes do politicians make?
I think agriculture itself has basically become a political issue. Unfortunately. Politicians face a dilemma. It is driven by minorities who demand extremes. We see this in Bavaria, for example, with the petition for a referendum (“Biodiversity – Save the bees”, t.e. ): Politics had to react to the social challenges.

Now we implement measures and recognize that they do not fit to the market and that we can get thereby large problems. Politicians need to get closer to agriculture in order to understand exactly where the problems lie and how to tackle them.

How can farmers better reconcile environmental protection and consumer demands in the future and develop business models from these?
On the one hand, we need to evolve, but we also need to show and do that, and ensure, through a marketing and sales strategy, that consumers recognise the added value of our high-quality, sustainably produced food. And we must awaken the willingness to make it worth something to them.

The food system made the farmers anonymous. The consumer builds trust in products through the trade, which exploits this proximity and presents brands with a peasant idyll. Behind this, however, are anonymous products, exchangeable processors and producers who are under price pressure. How can we bring farmers back into consumer awareness?
By producing our own brands and that is a question of communication and marketing. There are many opportunities in the cooperative system, for example: If farmers join forces, produce together, create their own brands, that would be interesting.

Further thought: How can we better distribute the costs of food production along the value chain?
By keeping the value chain shorter. We (farmers) lose and trade companies benefit.

The dairy farmer in Brandenburg no longer buys soya from Brazil but cooperates directly with the farmer three more villages: he no longer needs a middleman, instead the goods, in this case feed grain, are shifted directly from the producer to the consumer. Do you know of similar (“new”) value creation networks?
I like the example very much. By networking among themselves and leaving trade a bit out of the equation, more value remains with farmers. There are other examples: Last year, the Agrando platform was presented at the Farm & Food Congress. This is precisely where the platform starts to show the points of intersection between the individual farmers and to network them. This creates added value for agriculture.

The example of soy shows that really well. We do the same on the farm. Even reorganising or structuring the value chain has great advantages.

The Leibniz Centre for Agriculture demands a vision for the agriculture of the future. What do you think it should look like?
That is a good question. I can’t look that far into the future. I am facing the current challenges and trying to develop agriculture into a good future. There will still be many opportunities in environmental protection, biodiversity and ecology. This means that research and agriculture should work closely together.  What we also need for this is open communication, a dialogue to show people these developments.

Where we finally end up does not matter to me. I think there will never be a concrete goal, but agriculture will change constantly over time, improve constantly and adapt to new challenges. For example, the challenges of climate change, which cannot yet be foreseen.

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