“Typical cultivation takes place here: the conversion of grass into proteins,” says Jens Winter. We are standing on the edge of a meadow, on it cows with calves. Flat, wide grassland all around. Typical of the Rhinluch, the second largest moorland in Brandenburg. “Luch” is the traditional local term for extensive moorland lowlands. The Rhin, which flows into the Havel in the west, flows through the area. The cows eat, chew the cud, rest. Conversion of grass into proteins. A peaceful picture.
“But can we as a society still afford this form of moor use?” Anje Marten looks thoughtfully at the grazing protein producers. The animals belong to the Rhinmilch Agrargesellschaft. Jens Winter is authorized officer of the parent company. The Rhinmilchverbund based in Fehrbellin in the Brandenburg district of Ostprignitz-Ruppin has around 80 employees. The business areas: milk production and suckler cow husbandry, traditional and organic farming and energy production – biogas and photovoltaics. Winter, 60 years old, has worked in agriculture in the Rhinluch for almost his entire professional life. Anje Marten, 45 years old, has only been there for a short time. The hydraulic engineer from the State Office for the Environment has been in charge of a moor project in Rhinluch since April.
On a total of 750 hectares of demonstration areas in the Rhinluch and two other moor areas in northern Brandenburg, methods, techniques and utilization lines for the management of wet moor soils – the so-called paludiculture – are to be developed and established. Flooding drained moors again can make a major contribution to climate protection. Plant species such as reeds, sedges or canary grass will soon grow where cows graze or green fodder is grown for animal husbandry.
Landscape and agriculture in the Rhinluch are therefore facing an enormous transformation. An exciting research project for Anje Marten. A question of existence for Jens Winter. In the Rhinmilchverbund, only a fraction of the agricultural land is currently cultivated in a moor-friendly manner: around 270 of almost 3,800 hectares. “But what society expects of agriculture – whether it’s about food, energy or landscape conservation – is uncertain.”
Many farmers are concerned
The Rhinmlich authorized signatory is involved in the project with mixed feelings. His “affinity for water” made him want to take part, he says. Winter can provide information about the Rhinluch up until the last ice age. The moor was formed around 11,000 years ago. For centuries it was then drained. But peat extraction is long gone. Today the Rhinluch is also a tourist area, especially in autumn when thousands of cranes gather to fly to their winter quarters. An impressive spectacle, attended by ornithologists with large telephoto lenses. But the main source of income is agriculture.
“It’s not just the Ukraine war that shows us how important it is to secure the basis of production,” says Winter. What can and what should agriculture achieve in the future? That is the question that worries him. “In 20 years there will probably be substitute products for a large part of animal products,” he predicts. Presumably only a small part of the population will then be able to afford “real” meat and “real” cow’s milk. “This will have consequences for our agriculture.” So you have to try new ways.
However, Winter has his doubts as to whether peatland management can be forward-looking. Is there enough precipitation, is there enough water to raise the groundwater level over a large area and permanently? Can the swampy areas actually be cultivated – and in such a way that the effort is worthwhile? Winter’s questions reflect concerns that trouble many farmers. After all, it is their land and thus their livelihoods that are needed for the task of protecting the climate and nature for society as a whole. “The financial risk must not be left to the farmers,” demands Winter. “Because the rewetting of moorland is a political decision.”