Interview – Bhum: “Restructuring regulation is a big source of uncertainty for farmers”

NÖN: NÖN: Let’s start with last week’s political excitement: Environment Minister Leonor Küssler has approved the EU’s revival regulation. What is wrong with this and how will it affect the farmers in the district?

Boom: This is a very superficial decision that leaves a lot open and therefore leaves a lot of uncertainty for our farmers. For example, it means that the sites are no longer allowed to be fertilized or plowed so that more grasslands can be regenerated. It is also not clear what is meant by restoration of wetlands as provided in the regulation. Does this mean that farmers are not allowed to use arable land that can be drained for years? And what is the 20 percent rearranged area? Do the areas where action has already been taken count or is it additional? With this decision we are at the mercy of political arbitrariness, which implies enormous operational and productive uncertainty. As farmers, we have already implemented many environmental regulations – from ÖPUL to fallow land regulations, showing that we are committed to contractual nature protection. But it has to be paid by the public because the burden cannot always be on us alone. To ensure the security of the food supply, we will need space for production in the future. Incidentally, revitalization law is certainly not just an agricultural issue: what about a house in an exposed location, for example, or a football field in a floodplain? None of this has been defined yet. Minister Kevesler’s arbitrary action will cause further debate and protest.

Speaking of protest: Your tenure began with a farmers’ demonstration in Amstetten, which was scheduled for March 8 but canceled due to lack of participation. Then there were protests all over Europe. Has the condition of farmers improved now?

Boom: That would indeed have been a tumultuous start to my presidency. But as a chamber and as the ÖVP Farmers Union, we see this: strong political representation in decision-making bodies that look after our interests. A demonstration would have been meaningless then. However, it is clear that we still face huge challenges: starting with regulations for closing slurry pits, extending to management periods that cannot be brought into harmony with nature, to the high animal welfare investments we need to make.

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By this do you mean, for example, fully stacked floors in piggery?

Boom: Yes, there was legal regulation for a transition period up to 2039. Now the Supreme Court in a judgment has extended this period. So Parliament should amend the law.

What’s really wrong with fully stacked platforms?

Boom: Some animal protection organizations and NGOs consider this type of husbandry to be bad because of the risk of injury to the animals. But reality shows show that it’s a good form of animal husbandry because the manure falls down and the animals don’t lie in their own excrement. The transition period is primarily to protect investments for farmers. If a farmer builds a barn and has to rebuild it five years later because of a change in the law, the bottom line is definitely not financially viable. This is why new laws require long transition periods – or special funding. We are always open to suggestions and discussions about animal welfare. But if we produce like this, we also need a market for our food, not consumers reaching for cheap off-the-shelf products produced with very low quality and no animal husbandry regulations.

How can Chamber and Chamber Chairman help farmers with these problems?

Boom: The Chamber is an essential partner for companies. We support you with technical expertise, but also in the areas of networking and collaboration. We have experts at all levels and are well connected politically. It is about practical, judicious implementation of guidelines and it also requires common sense. A positive example is the reduction of 37.5 cents per liter of agricultural diesel, which brings us in line with other EU countries where farmers pay no tax on diesel.

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Climate change is an issue. We all feel its effects every year. What does it mean for farmers?

Boom: This year is a year of good rains, but we have to assume that the future will be hot and dry. The seasons keep changing and we continue to struggle with frost damage in the spring. Also, storm damage is increasing with heavy rains, hailstorms, storms etc. Extreme weather events are increasing. In Machland Süd, about 750 hectares of farmland were recently flooded. Wheat, corn, beets and soy are currently our strongest crops, but farmers are certainly already looking for alternatives – from pumpkins to hazelnuts. Climate changes create pressure on the market and force companies to specialize and seek niches. We need to respond to this development with innovation, which is why the Chamber has launched “Vif-Zack” – where we bring new ideas and modern operational structures to the fore. What’s available there is interesting – for example, digital operations.

Let’s go to their ceremony. What does a Chamber President actually do?

Boom: Let me tell you in advance that we successfully handed over the farm in March. My predecessor, Seb Eigner, gave me an orderly house with a talented and motivated staff. Many applications were processed only in the spring again, so many farmers still come to the room for advice. The Chamber Chairman is ultimately responsible for a number of topics ranging from technical expertise to courses, seminars and further training events. It is very important to take care of the farmers who are now holding new elections in the district. This means there will be new elections for the 31 clubs – and normally the Chamber President will preside over the elections. The good thing for me is that we have a lot of young, motivated leaders. Farmers are a huge supporter of our agriculture – be it product marketing, presentations, but also explaining how agriculture works – the main school on the farm. Taking care of rural youth is another focus for me. As part of the “Talk to You” campaign in the district, we invited people up to the age of 40 to present their views on agriculture. Workshops were held on the topics of energy, animal husbandry, forestry and business management. Approximately 80 people participated and we will present the results in the fall. It’s already clear that young people are demanding better networks. All the latest information should be brought to them even more.

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What is the status of young farmers in the district? Is the younger generation still ready to keep the farms going?

Boom: It is highly individual sector and depends on many factors. Personal, social and of course financial reasons play a role. Successful acquisition of the farm requires respectful intergenerational communication, above all, and generational independence in the sense of functional development. We note that there is currently a lot of interest in the topic as economic and political conditions are very uncertain. That is why we are offering more and more seminars on farm handover. We are still seeing a decline in the number of businesses in the district, but what encourages me is that, contrary to this trend, young people are also looking to join and take over businesses without heirs.

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