Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | January 21, 2008

German farmers cultivate ways to fight global warming

German farmers attending a week-long agricultural fair — dubbed Green Week — are divided on their level of responsibility for the environment and the best methods to fight global warming.

The image of a farmer in harmony with nature has long prevented a hard look at the sector’s contribution to climate change, notably when farming is compared with much more visibly polluting activities such as the chemical and steel industries and their iconic smokestacks.

Farmers are also often considered victims of global warming and the appearance of voracious parasites or chemical-resistent crop diseases.

And many in the sector still resist tough scrutiny.

“We are still the most inoffensive sector, and still the only ones to produce oxygen,” said Gerd Sonnleitner, president of the German farmers federation.

But in light of methane produced by flatulent cattle, nitrates used in fertilizers and other substances containing ammonium and carbon dioxide, the sector is far from pure.

In the European Union, agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse emissions, according to the statistics service Eurostat, half of which comes from cattle raising.

Each milk cow emits 100 kilos (220 pounds) of methane per year through its digestive process.

European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is considering the inclusion of climate change targets as part of qualifications for subsidies under a new common agricultural policy.

Among farmers, opinions diverge widely.

For conservatives represented by Sonnleitner, “the more intensive agriculture is the better it is for the climate.”

He presented the following calculation.

A cow used to produce 4,000 litres of milk per year, now it comes up with 10,000. The result is fewer emissions because fewer animals are needed to produce the same quantity of milk.

On the other hand, Hubert Weiger of the Agricultural Alliance, a German group of pro-environment associations, insists: “We must reduce the intensity, that is the right strategy, not further intensification.”

He argued for reduced production through biological methods that use less fertilizer and emit less CO2.

A radical movment within the alliance has called for simply giving up cattle production and meat consumption altogether.

“A significant measure from the point of view of climate protection would be a complete renouncing of meat, or a vegetarian lifestyle,” said Henriette Mackensen, an animal protection veterinarian quoted in the alliance’s “alternative agricultural report.”

For those unwilling to give up their steaks, biological breeding — cattle raised on organic feed — offered an option, since it produces four times fewer carbon dioxide emissions than conventional methods, Mackensen said.

But the world is a long way from an all-bio future. The world of agriculture contains plenty of sceptics.

Austrian grape grower Michael Gruber, for example, said: “We talk a lot about climate change, but has it been proven?

“It is all a question of big money, they want to tax us and take our money, that’s all.”


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