Gone is the time when shopping in he alth food stores was only for organic people: products with the corresponding seal have long been found in all supermarkets. And in view of rotten meat, genetically modified maize and the like, more and more buyers are tending to reach for organic products. But can agriculture meet the growing demand at all? Happy grazing pigs, kitschy-beautiful cornflowers and poppies in the rolling cornfield, wholesome products for human he alth - organic farming, it seems, offers a perfect world. And that's tempting: products from organic farming can now be found on the shelves of relevant discounter chains at lower prices than was previously the case in he alth food stores or he alth food stores. Since it has been proven that the masses across all groups of buyers spend their money here, the organic sector seems to be blossoming from a niche branch to a mass supplier.
A dream come true, one might think. But conservationists, of all people, who might be expected to be the first advocates, see the development with concern because the production of such products requires about a third more space than conventional cultivation.
Example pigs: The butcher only threatens them after about twice the number of days as their barracked colleagues in the fattening barn. As a result, they eat more, and this feed is ready to be presented in a trough somewhere in a field - one with an organic seal, of course, and on European soil. First of all, this means a lower yield per unit area and, with an increase in the proportion of organic meat, more area under the plough. And organic pigs are allowed out: Rolling, rooting, grunting in the open air is expressly desired according to the guidelines of German organic farming associations and will be a fixed requirement from 2010. But this species-appropriate animal husbandry also consumes additional landscape. Can the densely populated Central Europe meet this need at all if the conditions of German organic farming associations are used as a benchmark for a nationwide supply of the population?
At the end of 2005, 27 million pigs were kept nationwide in Germany, the vast majority of which are in conventional fattening and breeding farms. The specifications of German organic associations stipulate a stocking rate of ten animals per hectare of grazing pigs. Applied to all pigs as a whole, this variant, which is undoubtedly the most species-appropriate variant even under ecological forms of husbandry, claimed 2.7 million hectares of land alone for habitat - this corresponds to the areas of the two federal states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland together.
In addition, the hunger of the future sausages in organic farming can only be partially satisfied via the pasture, the farmer cannot avoid additional feed. But here, too, the German guidelines are strict: the pig feed should consist as completely as possible of organic quality and at least half of it should come from your own farm. Only up to a sixth may be purchased from conventional sources. All of this means additional space.
If the 56.8 million broilers, 36.2 million laying hens, 13 million cattle and 10.6 million turkeys still cooped up in Germany's stables were also allowed to live in the open air, the calculated sums would make even the most sober dizzy Contemporaries.
From the past…
Perhaps such projections are exaggerated. After all, even in conventional cultivation, despite the growing hunger for meat, the agricultural area has not yet grown, on the contrary: In the industrialized countries, the area used for agriculture shrank even up to ten years ago.
Behind this is the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, which increased the yield per unit area to three times that of fifty years ago, and not only in conventionally cultivated fields in Germany. The use of new agricultural technology such as the cultivation of monocultures and targeted cross-breeding of different varieties contributed to this continuous increase in yield, the widespread use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides did the rest. The success of the strategy, especially in developing countries, was recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee in 1970 with the Nobel Peace Prize for agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug as one of the initiators.
Nevertheless, one should not conceal the unpleasant side effects of this development: the decrease in biodiversity on agricultural land, increased susceptibility of agricultural products to pests and diseases or the destruction of ecological processes through the methods used. The dependency and high costs, especially for small farmers, is a thorn in the side of many critics.
… to the present
But back to the current situation: The agricultural turnaround initiated in 2005 by the then Federal Consumer Protection Minister Renate Künast aims to increase the area organically farmed to twenty percent by 2010. Since Germany's citizens will hardly voluntarily eat less because of this, either more domestic land has to go under the plow or more is imported.
Here too, the sober figures from the Federal Statistical Office provide the first signs of a trend: since 1995, 38 percent of the agricultural fallow land has been converted back into agricultural production. The fate of the remaining 800,000 hectares is uncertain. Because not only food-producing agriculture is faced with the tractor running in front of the anthropogenic biotopes: The cultivation of biomass for fuel has already made more and more fields bloom bright yellow in recent years.
Biofuels already account for two percent of total consumption across the EU. An increase to a maximum of 25 percent is considered realistic. An EU directive that sets quotas for the addition of biodiesel to normal fuels is intended to contribute to this.
According to estimates by experts, renewable raw materials could soon be found on four million hectares of cultivated land. That would mean the loss of almost a quarter of the current 17 million hectares of agricultural land in Germany for food production. Or require additional land. That seems difficult to achieve on the Central European doorstep: built-up areas are out of the question. The area reserve of the native natural landscape relics could only be converted into agricultural land at great expense in terms of energy and money and would be a political decision that would be difficult to enforce.
What does the future hold?
An analogy based on Borlaug's example could help: Sustainable improvement of methods. The industrial ecology approach summarizes efforts to reduce environmental pollution at the economic level. The best way to reduce the consumption of raw materials is to maximize waste utilization. This system of cycles that are as closed as possible can be transferred to agriculture.
There are already approaches to this. So-called "precision farming" is used on conventional farms to evaluate, for example, differences in soil and productivity within a field. With the help of GPS, farm soil maps are created with which seed, fertilization or the use of herbicides can be calculated much more effectively. However, such methods have so far only been used sporadically in this country.
Industrialization is just beginning for organic products. "We need to realign our business"
(Helmut Born) It is still uncertain where the journey will take us and who will get on board. It is clear that the methods and specifications for organic farming currently being practiced in Germany appear in their entirety to be unsuitable for broad supply.
No one doubts the great advantage of sustainable production of agricultural goods for the environment or the way of animal husbandry. "We have to realign our business," says Helmut Born, Secretary General of the German Farmers' Association. The "tie to the country", as demanded by the Foundation for Ecology and Agriculture, will certainly become thinner as a result of this reorientation. But maybe not all of our bellies.