Biodiversity: an opportunity for agriculture
Biodiversity comprises all living creatures in their various habitats: in soil, in water and on land. It is based on the diversity of the ecosystems, the genetic diversity and wealth of species of animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms.
Biodiversity is one of the most important foundations of our lives which needs to be maintained on a permanent basis. Therefore, our influence on biological diversity requires precise analysis. As part of a DMK pilot project, positive and negative hotspots were identified, which open up a great deal of potential for milk production. One thing is clear: the “good agricultural practice” which farmers contribute from their everyday work is already benefitting biological diversity at farms.
Biodiversity is not a one-way street but an opportunity for agriculture to chart new territory and engage with topics relating to species diversity. Even small, targeted measures form important building blocks of the bigger picture.
Joint pilot project by DMK and the Bodensee-Stiftung
On behalf of DMK, the Bodensee-Stiftung, a private environmental and nature conservation organisation which intensively works with topics such as agriculture, biodiversity and climate protection, visited ten pilot sites and investigated the current biodiversity status using the Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) which was developed in-house. Using 78 indicators, the BPT records the strengths and weaknesses of the farms. Each indicator is evaluated using five questions in a traffic light system. If an indicator is red, the site shows room for improvement on this topic. Green indicates a positive influence on biodiversity. This assessment of the status quo supports the farmer in selecting measures to improve biodiversity.
Advantages of GMO-free feeding
The farms achieved good results in the area of GMO-free milk production, for example. GMO-free feeding not only reduces pressure on the rainforests and other ecosystems but also supports regional feed production. 70 percent of DMK farmers are already participating in the “No GM technology” programme. The Bodensee-Stiftung also evaluates the cultivation of catch crops at the farms positively. In the period which would otherwise be without vegetation, they supply the soil with organic matter and contribute to protecting the environment, soil and water by reducing unwanted effects such as soil erosion and nutrient run-off, as well as improving the soil structure. The traceability of the operations, such as the detailed documentation of fertilisation and plant health measures, was evaluated positively.
Permanent grassland and thus pasture grazing also contributes to promoting biodiversity and to climate protection by acting as a carbon sink. DMK therefore encourages pasture grazing as part of the Milkmaster bonus programme.
Promoting species diversity
The project found room for development in the field of species diversity in particular. Legumes were only cultivated at one of the farms before the project period. These plants belong to one of the most biodiverse plant families and are capable of absorbing nitrogen from the air. This reduces the requirements for mineral nitrogen and CO2 emissions. Overall, the use of nurse crops is recommended based on the results of the study. It is important to create habitats for fauna and flora, including for endangered species, and thus to increase species diversity.
Measures for dairy cattle farms
The cooperation with the Bodensee-Stiftung led to the creation of some effective steps in addition to the measures already taken, which could contribute to sustainably improving biodiversity. It may be an option to leave wet areas or field tips (wedges) empty because unused grassland areas are important areas of retreat for ground game, birds and insects. Edge areas/tips could be left empty on large areas in particular. It may also be an option to establish perennial flower strips here. These flower strips are suitable for dividing up large areas. They also provide a habitat and source of food for insects and wild animals.
Furthermore, legumes can also be integrated into existing grassland more effectively. Clover, for example, is a valuable source of protein, supports the soil structure and captures nitrogen. On the other hand, looking after the grassland area involves somewhat more work.
In the area of nurse crops too, climate protection and biodiversity goals can be combined with crop production goals. For example, a nurse crop in corn improves the soil structure and prevents erosion. This may be an answer to periods of drought and food shortages for animals. There are lots of advantages to counteract the increased workload.
Thinking about the future
The pilot study which has been completed demonstrates that well-established measures are already doing their bit to promote biodiversity. However, some areas of agricultural production show room for improvement, whereby the individual situation of each farm must always be taken into consideration. The goal here is to identify untapped opportunities and formulate shared goals for agriculture and biodiversity in order to make good use of synergy effects.
MILRAM and our farmers have also planted perennial flower strips in the farmland this year, which consist of a mix of regional wild plants and herbs and perform an important function: They not only provide habitat for many wild animals, but also nectar for butterflies and bees, food for numerous bird species and small mammals, and serve as living and nesting space for reptiles.