Claus Sauter
NO. 12 | NOVEMBER 2023

A matter of honour: Bioenergy strengthens the agricultural sector

Poor harvests, lower quality crops due to weather conditions, and the threat of financial losses for farmers: this sounds like a crisis, but it is not, because products that are not allowed in bread and which are not suitable for use as animal feed can still be processed. Biorefineries can process all harvested crops of any quality, and refine them into climate-friendly energy and high-quality products for use in food and animal feed. This strengthens the profitability of agriculture and, as a result, makes a contribution to the security of food supplies. In the latest episode of the #StrawClever podcast, economics expert Claudius Nießen talks to two men who have been practising this existential solidarity for years: Claus Sauter, bioenergy expert and Chief Executive Officer of Verbio, and Dr. Dirk Köckler, Chairman of the Board of Directors of AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG, one of Germany’s leading agricultural cooperatives. Listen to the podcast to hear how these challenges can be transformed into win-win situations.

[English transcription of the German audio version.]

Claudius Nießen:Hello, and welcome to the autumn issue of our StrawClever podcast. In keeping with the season, today we are going to talk about the significance of rapeseed and wheat for the transformation of transport, and we will have a look at recent changes, or lack of change, at the political level. We will discuss the potential that biomass offers for nutrition and health, and why the interplay between farmers and manufacturers of bioenergy is of systemic importance. For this purpose, I welcome two gentlemen who, given their many years of working together, know how well bioenergy and agriculture can work hand-in-hand in shaping a sustainable future for Germany and Europe. Here in the studio I welcome bioenergy expert Claus Sauter, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verbio. We also have a direct connection to Münster, from where we welcome Dr. Dirk Köckler, Chairman of the Board of Directors of AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG, one of five agricultural cooperatives in Germany. Hello and a very warm welcome!

Claus Sauter:A very good morning to you!

Dr. Dirk Köckler:Good morning, Mr. Nießen!

Claudius Nießen:I suggest that before we start our discussion we first provide our listeners with an update on recent events in the mobility sector. Mr. Sauter, the Federal Government has – yet again, it has to be said – failed to meet its climate protection targets for the transport sector, and then promptly removed the sector targets from the Climate Protection Act. Is thatnot a little bit like receiving bad marks at school and then starting to think about responding by simply abolishing the grading system?

Claus Sauter:Yes, the comparison is a good one. That is exactly what happens, one doesn't want to have the bad press. Nevertheless, targets are set to be met, and when they are not

met, it is time to think about what has to be done to achieve them. In politics, however, things work differently. When you don’t achieve a target and there is negative press coverage, then they find it better to abolish it completely. I mean, we should have a look at where we started out. In 1990 we generated approximately 160 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and the target was to reduce this total. In 2019 we were still at the same level as back in 1990. You’d have to say nothing had been achieved, the target had not been met. Currently we have ambitious targets, and last year things went well. It would be no problem to look at the targets – without targets nothing is achieved – and increase the targets for transport. Achieving these targets would not be a problem at all. But you have to increase the targets, and then you can meet them. But really, I gave up getting worked up about what happens here in Germany a long time ago. We only need to take a look at how it is done elsewhere. And what is happening in the USA at the moment, for example, is very remarkable. The strategy being followed in the United States, on a big scale, it is unbureaucratic, providing subsidies based on simple rules – it works. All the important players in the renewable energy sector, whether in hydrogen or in biofuels, they are all there in the USA at the moment. So you see, it can be done differently. It isn’t necessary to abolish the grading system.

Claudius Nießen:Now, in mid-October the EU Ministers for the Environment tightened the CO2 limits for heavy goods vehicles and buses. Now CO2 emissions should be cut by 90 percent by 2040, compared with 2019. How can that be done in the EU, Mr. Sauter?

Claus Sauter:We can pick up from where we just left off, what we were just discussing. I mean, we have a large number of such targets. Again, this will not be achieved. I found it even more remarkable at the beginning of last week, I think it was on Monday, when the Employer’s Federation met and Mr. Scholz stood there and said, “Don’t worry. The price of electricity will fall, in the near future it will be very, very cheap because the Federal Government will meet its targets for expanding the use of renewable energies.” Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I thought. That would be the first time that they fulfilled anything at all. And for me it is all the more remarkable – actually quite shocking – to see the self-confidence that he had standing there and telling the companies represented there, trying to give them a good feeling, telling them that they should not have any worries about the future. 90 percent of the business people sitting there are firmly convinced that the Federal Government does not have a plan, and that if they set any targets at all they will not meet them. So, I think we could do more in transport, but not just with electricity. We need synthetic, and above all biogene fuels. What Verbio is producing today, this offers CO2 savings of 80, 90 percent. I think the time has now come to act urgently, not to set such ridiculous targets. 2040 – I don’t know if I will still be alive then, but it is a long way off – but pull things forward. This is the way it is done in a business, creating measurable targets. Also, creating trust in the population that these targets can also be met. Otherwise, it has to be said clearly: in all the issues concerning climate protection there has been a major failure. And it is like with small children. I mean, if they cannot rely on what the parents say, then at some time they stop believing in anything. And it is the same with our society. Industry gave up long ago; there is no investment and [governmental] protective measures are not in place, which can be seen currently with the issue of imported goods from China. But I think we will discuss this again later.

Claudius Nießen:But nevertheless, you have already said: biofuels, a good starting point, as we are obviously familiar with these at filling stations. They are primarily used as additives in petrol and diesel, and as a result approximately 80 million tonnes of CO2 [emissions] have been saved since 2015. A consumer survey was performed by Kantar, a market research institute, and the results of this survey revealed that the majority of Germans have a positive view of biofuels, that was 65 percent of all Germans, particularly because they benefit the environment and protect resources. On the other hand, 26 percent of Germans fear that biofuels will result in the loss of areas under cultivation to grow food. Is that true, Dr. Köckler?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:Definitely not, Mr. Nießen. Crop rotation methods have been used in our agriculture now for generations. It is not at all the case that we only grow bread wheat; instead, we have a tried and trusted rotation involving barley and rye. We have so-called leaf-fruits such as maize and rapeseed, and we use these for very good reasons. Some facts: here in Germany our grain harvest is approximately 40 million tonnes. Almost 10 million tonnes of this we need for milling. A further 10 million tonnes are largely exported. As a result, we have annual surplus wheat qualities and other products that cannot be used for manufacturing foodstuffs, and it is very sensible to make use of this as a fuel, which we have been doing successfully for many years.

Claudius Nießen:Mr. Sauter, you look animated. Do you want to add something?

Claus Sauter:Yes. I mean, when you go back to Verbio’s origins in the 1990s, we had massive overproduction, there was no use for the excess grain, and the set-aside system was introduced. It needs to be said; agricultural land was deliberately left unused to prevent this overproduction being created in the first place, and then biofuels were created as a way of making use of it. If I remember correctly, I, or we as Verbio, we were paid money by Brussels to take rye which the EU had bought under price-stabilisation methods, more or less to get rid of it. The condition was that it may not end up in “food or feed”, i.e. not in food products, not even as animal feed. This “food or fuel” debate that we have here in Germany is so wrong. It cannot be stressed enough – and I mean, farmers have also not had an easy year this year; low qualities, prices have fallen by massive amounts. The best strategy to make sure that a society has enough food is ensuring that the farmers can earn good money. That has not happened this year. Then there will be cost cutting, and, and, and... We should not forget that at the end of the day the farmers are the ones providing society with its food, and when their product doesn’t have the quality needed, there needs to be a sales channel for their output. This is us, as the people who process the stuff, and with our technologies we place the lowest demands on quality. In other words, put simply, if necessary we are able to make use of even the dirtiest stuff.

Dr. Dirk Köckler:I will add something from the agricultural trading perspective. As of today, and tomorrow, it makes absolute sense to produce for fuel purposes, in the way we are doing so, Mr. Sauter. For example, in Sweden, a long way from our market, where high freight costs would be incurred to reach consumers, where we also have weak locations, where no wheat at all is grown – this is classic rye cultivation territory. This culture can also manage very wellunder extreme climatic challenges; mostly dry conditions, but also in wet years, like 2023, as Mr. Sauter correctly described, we are able to make the best possible use [of the harvest] as well as a significant reduction in CO2 freight. Imagine if we did not make any use at all of the crops grown there. Our sustainability managers would hold their heads in their hands. In addition, these crops that you and I both trade – rye and triticale – also bring with them valuable volumes of straw, and this straw, Mr. Sauter, that we both use to produce energy. So it is not for political reasons; instead, it is absolutely a sustainable and economically viable product, and it is outrageous to stop this on political grounds.

Claudius Nießen:Now, both of you, Mr. Köckler, Mr. Sauter and yourself, have talked about the weather. This year the harvest is certainly... I am not an expert on agriculture, but when I look at the weather, I would say it has been a disaster for your harvest, am I right? So, what does that mean for the foodstuff industry? What does that mean for the farmers? What conclusions can you draw already?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:Here I would like to start with an assessment: wet years are part of life in agriculture. I live in a region – I come from Westphalia, which is why I am speaking from Münster – my dear father used to say that in our region no one was ever driven from their farm by too much sun. This saying will certainly not apply in the same way to East Germany. But this year we will again have to remember that wet conditions are a fact of life in farming. For example, we have combine harvesters with caterpillar traction systems. If we didn’t have such caterpillar track systems, Mr. Sauter, we would not have been able to harvest the rye or triticale. That means that we have to be prepared, also in terms of the crops we plant, as we do not only sow a single type of crop on risk avoidance grounds. Here it is not possible because of the health of the soil, but also in order to manage the weather. And yes, 2023 was a miserable year for farmers. We have lost significant volumes in agriculture. Many of the products are not sufficiently marketable. Here it important to recognise that rye and triticale are not products with a wide marketability. Rye is not exported to North Africa in order to produce falafel; it is a purely German product. It is only here that black (rye) bread is popular. Otherwise it is either used in animal feed or for the purposes of manufacturing bioethanol, with the result that 2023 makes us humble, it shows that we need a wide crop rotation, and I also want to take up the cause for innovative-sustainable agriculture, as we call it. It cannot be done without modern technology. It cannot be done without modern crop protection that ensures that grain can hold firm, even in a summer when there is 300mm rainfall, and that fungus infections do not completely destroy the grain that we grow.

Claudius Nießen:Mr. Sauter, I would like to ask again… because you said something just now about the so-called “fuel or food” debate, something that gets many people’s pulses racing. Now we have heard it from Mr. Köckler: not everything that is cultivated can be processed. Not everything that is cultivated will eventually land on a plate. And yet, is it not true that we need every straw plant that we can get in order to address hunger around the world?

Claus Sauter:Of all the grain that is harvested worldwide, approximately 30 percent really lands on a plate. The largest share goes for so-called value added processing. In other words, we use it to produce meat: chicken, pork and beef.

Claudius Nießen:You mean classic animal feed?

Claus Sauter:Yes! And to be very direct about it, it needs to be said that meat production is a waste of energy, quite clearly – in the form of an animal. I don’t have anything against eating a steak, I am not a vegetarian. I love it, as it happens. It’s just that we should be clear about it: we have enough of this raw material to feed the population. If I look at India, for example, there more than 50 percent of the population are vegetarian, so vegetarianism is quite normal and the food tastes good. That means that we have enough agricultural raw materials to feed ten billion people. No problem at all. But we do have conflicting objectives, and the conflicting objectives are that we don’t want to continue to use the carbon-based fuel sources obtained from under the ground. So we must replace at least part of those, and to do that we need biomass. I have been to Brazil often in recent months. In Mato Grosso, which is approximately 2,500 kilometres away from any coast, i.e. from the northern coast as well as from the eastern seaboard, millions of hectares of land lie unused there; this not part of the Amazon, this is unused land. Why? Because Brazil does not need the food, it only has a population of 200 million, but the freight costs to transport it to other markets are far too high. Dr. Köckler was saying the same thing; in Brandenburg, for example, where we have our plant in Schwedt, there is very little cattle farming, not much use is made of processing. In particular, that means especially the poor quality products, the ones that command low prices, it does not make commercial sense to transport them over large distances for processing, it is just unprofitable to do that. For this reason the world still has massive potential. We just need to provide farmers with opportunities to earn money. And what do we see now? There, in this region of Brazil that I was describing, large numbers of local ethanol plants are being established. Automatically maize crops and soyabean crops follow, and all of this is happening in a highly ecological manner. Naturally these are huge areas, and the term monoculture is absolutely justified there. But those are the conditions that apply there, and accordingly we have enough raw materials. Human beings do not go hungry because of biofuels; when that happens the reasons lie elsewhere – political instability, corruption and so on. So, in my opinion we need to make a decision at this point, because we either carry on using fossil [fuels] or we find alternatives, and sun and wind will not be enough, especially here where we live.

Claudius Nießen:In addition to the poor harvest here, it continues to be the case that there is limited ability for exports to be supplied from Ukraine. In addition to the terrible suffering of the people, the war is also causing much economic damage. What consequences are being faced by agricultural trading, Mr. Köckler, and what is the effect of the grain agreement?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:The Ukraine-Russia war is indeed a turning point. On the one hand we see how this wonderful agricultural country is needed in order to feed 8 billion people as of today, and potentially 10 billion. That is simply a product of the natural conditions that exist in Ukraine and Russia, and there, too, the large potential of the agricultural sector is not yet exhausted. We are now seeing that goods from Ukraine are reaching us by truck and in entire train loads because of their regional proximity, and these are realities that we already need to deal with now. We have had a sharp fall in prices since the harvest, despite the Black Sea embargo. This shows us that the primary drivers are freight costs of the products, and that the products do find their way. We have already seen political uncertainties as a result in Poland and in the Czech Republic, and we are preparing for the situation in which these products find their way into Western Europe on a sustained basis. We will see how far our goodwill will extend when it comes to exporting challenges for foodstuffs to foreign countries, whether it will be similar to the textile industry. We assume that [Ukraine] is a major supplier of grain, and also for meat products, for example for poultry and other meat products, and we should be glad that we have ways to make use – as fuel – of the products, and that we import rapeseed. In the past that was approximately 2 million tonnes which are put to good use in Germany and Europe; together with the by-product rapeseed meal, this provides a sustainable, high-value source of protein for our animal feed. In addition, looking at crop rotation is surely the right thing to do in Ukraine, too. Maize is also valuable for the production of bioethanol. There are also excellent applications for the by-products, so it is absolutely the right thing to do to generate renewable fuels from maize, grain and rape. If you take an honest look at Ukraine – and we all want peace there, and agricultural production to support this peace – and processing, the production of biofuels, is certainly also a very important source of support.

Claudius Nießen:Now, we have spoken about the poor harvest 2023, and we have spoken about the situation in Ukraine. The biodiesel market is currently being overrun with cheap imports from China. This is, as you can imagine, a major commercial challenge for manufacturers of bioenergy, including for Mr. Sauter. Mr. Köckler, what consequences would there be if less biomass was to be purchased from agriculture?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:That is a continuation of my answer about Ukraine. We are pleased that rapeseed is processed to manufacture biodiesel. We have a crush capacity in Germany of approximately 10 million tonnes. We ourselves have a rapeseed volume of around 5 million tonnes, and we are already experiencing a very sharp fall in prices in the current marketing period, which is partly due to the import dilemma from China that you mentioned. So, as a result, it is damaging for the price support in agriculture, and correspondingly costs us earnings power in agriculture; it is something we condemn, and it is negative for us.

Claus Sauter:In addition to Dr. Köckler’s comments, I would like to mention the discussion that we had, that we must shut down the production of biofuels because of the Ukraine war, because exports through the Black Sea route cannot get through. The reality is that this discussion was a lot of nonsense, and people in business and Dr. Köckler, I mean with an agricultural business, logistics is a significant element in all this... Wherever there is a raw material, it will find a way. It takes a few weeks, a few months, and this is what we are now seeing from Ukraine. Let’s remember, the first ship that left port did not contain a freight of feed wheat, as our Minister for Development would like us to believe. It was not bread wheat for Lebanon, it was chicken feed. The first ship that left port was transporting chicken feed. So, we see at the moment that the volumes from the Ukraine are pushing west. Last year, in part, that led to the harvest being left in the fields in Poland. The farmers, the Polish farmers, they were not able to earn money with it, and the maize, they didn't even harvest it. And this also led to political pressure in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Today, when a heavy goods vehicle arrives from Ukraine travelling west, it will be sealed at the Ukrainian-Polish border so that it cannot be unloaded in Poland. That is the reality. The neighbouring states need to protect themselves from the cheap imports from Ukraine. That is the reality of the situation, and not the other way around. And another remark on the issue of China. Yes, at the moment goods are coming from there, goods that we don’t actually want, and it is clearly biodiesel made from palm oil. When we make an analysis of it, we can prove it. It is a palm oil molecule. The Chinese claim that the palm oil did not come from trees, that instead it comes from the grease separators, and that needs to be investigated. But let us look at what is happening now, with China, not only in our industry but also in other industries. Today, China is responsible for almost 30 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide. 30 percent! So, what is happening at the moment is a classic case of “carbon leakage”. What is carbon leakage? We have tightened the regulations here in Europe to become more CO2 efficient, and this has the effect of increasing costs. The Chinese, they don’t care at all. They build one coal power station after another, as a result they have cheap energy, and then the effect kicks in. We are of the opinion that we can save the climate here with our policies, by reducing CO2 emissions, but because of the increased costs the production is transferred to China, and we achieved exactly the opposite of what was intended. The Chinese generate even more emissions. In other words, both in the automotive industry but also in our sector, and in steel and so on, we would have to finally put the actual... the actual goal, namely we want to reduce CO2 emissions, to the foreground, and if the Chinese don’t join in, but instead gain a competitive advantage in return, then they are out of the game.

Claudius Nießen:Let us look at another fact, something that I was not aware of and surely also something that many of our listeners will not be aware of – the fact that biomass, as well as being used to make fuels, can also be used to create high-value products. To do this, a biorefinery is needed. You operate these at Verbio. What happens there exactly, and what is it that you manufacture? That is like exponential sustainability, if you can put it like that. Or is it simply just a side issue, is it not really such an important part of the overall picture?

Claus Sauter:No, no, it is not a side issue at all; in fact, it is an important part of our success at Verbio, and an important part of the overall value-added chain. I mean, our strategy is very clear – it is to generate as much value added as we can from the raw materials, and today we make glycerine, which is included in moisture creams, a very important raw material in many cosmetic products, toothpaste... Glycerine is also available from fossil sources, but that has been successfully pushed out of the market. Then we manufacture, for example, sterols, which are included in rapeseed oil; it is a cholesterol-lowering agent. We find this in margarine, yoghurt and it is also needed to manufacture hormones. Then we have high-value protein concentrate. Here we are currently working on developing a new technology, and from the processed itself Glycosalt. This is a salt used in animal feed, and accordingly it is returned to agriculture. Then, of course, we have biofertiliser. So it really is a biorefinery. The input is not crude oil; instead the inputs consist of either vegetable oils, in our case primarily rapeseed oil or grain – whereby as already discussed we do not process any bread grain – and we make the most diverse range of products from these inputs. And today, biofuels are the biggest of these in volume terms. But in terms of the value added, here we generate the main part of our earnings from these by-products.

Claudius Nießen:You are now going a step further, Mr. Sauter, and are developing sustainable solutions for the chemical industry. What is happening in that area, exactly?

Claus Sauter:The actual value of our products is the fact that we recycle CO2. Nature does this; it collects CO2 from the atmosphere, and the value of our products is in the green carbon atom, and this green carbon atom is needed in chemistry. To simply burn our molecules, that is a sin. But this is how we have started. The decarbonisation or defossilisation is nowspreading to other sectors of society. The chemical industry is a good case in point. But we see a remarkable trend in the USA, massive demand for our biomethane from very diverse industries: the steel industry, the chemical industry, and so on. Without – and this is what is truly remarkable – without these industries being forced to do so by laws or regulations. These guys are under no obligation to buy this stuff, but – and here is where the US system comes into play again – they are able to earn subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act when they use these raw materials, low CO2 materials, the sort they get from us. That is just the other approach, the US American approach, not using obligations, but incentives, and this approach works much, much better than ours here in Europe, which involves putting obligations on everyone to do this or that thing, and then, even better, setting out in detail exactly what they have to do. It has to be said, what is happening in the USA at the moment is really remarkable, and very, very promising.

Claudius Nießen:Incentives is a good point. Dr. Köckler was talking about straw just now. You at Verbio also produce biofuels based on waste products, you just mentioned that. For example, biomethane from straw, which was mentioned just now. Are there any advantages for the farmers?

Claus Sauter:Well, I am a farmer myself, and yes, there are advantages, especially there in Brandenburg. We have relatively light soil, which means it is poor at retaining water. Then we have little rain. That means the straw, which is available with the grain harvest in autumn, ideally it needs to rot by springtime. When there is a good harvest it is not always certain that this process is complete, and for this reason the farmers are actually happy about it when we collect the straw from the fields, when we convert the cellulose and the hemicellulose in the straw into energy, and then a large amount of the straw mass is still left over, and we bring it back then. This means that in our plants we perform part of the fermentation process, bringing it forward and accelerating the decomposition of the biomass, and then after that we return the carbon dioxide. Here there is one thing that needs to be understood: when straw is left in the fields, it only rots on the surface. CO2 is created, bacteria eat the cellulose and the hemicellulose and produce CO2, and that is released into the atmosphere. So our system has a double benefit – first, it helps the farmers, because they have simplified conditions and they still have the carbon dioxide, and second, we avoid the release of CO2 in the natural environment. Instead we do this under controlled conditions in a fermenter, and use it to manufacture a potential source of energy, namely CH4, methane natural gas.

Claudius Nießen:Finally, a question for the both of you. We have now heard a lot of things that I would describe as classic “win-win” situations. Why then do we not turn to biomass on a much bigger scale, in order to achieve climate targets and supply the population with green products? Dr. Köckler, Mr. Sauter?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:Yes, Mr. Nießen, a clear commitment to biomass would help us. When I look at the energy mix that includes solar and wind power, biomass has a great advantage in that it can be stored. We process significant volumes of liquid manure and dung, converting it to biomethane. This is the successor to the classic biogas plants using maize. Biomethane can be pumped into the gas network, it is green, and it meets demand when the sun is not shining and when there is no wind. I think, Mr. Sauter, it is a similar issue with bioethanol. There, too,we can make storable energy from grain. At this point I would like to reiterate very clear support for the combustion engine. When we transport grain between Schwedt, Treuen, Brietzen or Trebsen in the east or Bad Laasphe in Siegerland, today we make the assumption that we will be doing this, also in the long term, using vehicles powered by combustion engines. In our organisation we have few heavy goods vehicles, and we are happy about it when we are able to make use of renewable energy or bioethanol. Another aspect is being clever in agriculture. Climate change is a major stress factor; overall the soil is getting dryer. Mr. Sauter described the process of how it is the right thing to do to take the straw away and then, but please, in an intelligent way, to transport carbon, which has an enormous water storage capacity, from this biomass production back into the soil. And this is our understanding of innovative-sustainable agriculture: not refraining from making use of operating resources, but using intelligent methods in order to obtain a decent price for the products by generating appropriate land yields and sensible qualities, Mr. Sauter. And accordingly, I am also a salesman, so I see the glass as being half-full, and we should have the courage to describe these facts, as we do in this podcast, very clearly, and then overcome the conflict between electability and practicability when it comes to policies for agriculture. So, we are ready for action. Our organisation is 150 years old, we have survived many things, and we are pioneers in agriculture technologies and crop growing and we are also very clearly committed to livestock farming. This is also part of agriculture.

Claudius Nießen:Mr. Sauter?

Claus Sauter:I do not need to add much to that. It is as Dr. Köckler has described it. This, what we do, namely make use of biomass in order to manufacture sources of energy, it is necessary for agriculture, also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is really a win-win situation. That we are still permanently having this discussion is wrong information; in particular in politics, there is a lot of ideology at work, and that is very dangerous. I was able to experience with Mr. Özdemir when we were in Brazil, when he saw how farming is done there – this Mercosur agreement, in short, giving the South Americans access to the market in Europe for agricultural products, it is an important step. Only, clearly one needs to be clear about the fact that the conditions under which things are done there are very different to here. So when I look at it from an ideological standpoint, then Mercosur is the wrong approach, because the way agriculture is done there is the complete opposite of what our regulations here in Europe demand. As a result they have a competitive advantage, and we have to start to measure things everywhere based on the same standards. So, and for this reason, at Verbio we are in a position to take anything that the farmers produce and make use of it as a raw material. This is a very innovative approach. However, there really is so much unused agricultural land available worldwide that much more could be done, and an industrialised country like Germany in particular – with 800 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, with its ambitious targets, but without concrete measures to achieve them, and with ideological restrictions – it actually has a great obligation to finally implement short-term targets with concrete measures, and not, as you said at the beginning, to abolish the system and remove the targets. Because, in my opinion, one thing has to be said very clearly: these targets that they are now defining, they will all have to be fulfilled at a time when they are most likely no longer in power. That is the art of politics. Define a target, one that is preferably one or – even better – two legislative periods in the future, so that when the time comes, you no longer have any political responsibility. But we will not make any progress with this approach. There, nothing will be invested. So, yes, I have great, great concerns as to whether any of these goals will ever be achieved at the point in time for which they are defined. And for me, it is even worse for the German SME sector, which has placed its trust in the Chancellor's words. Based on my experience, I have to say very clearly, anyone who relies on this is lost.

Claudius Nießen:Dr. Köckler, how do you see the overall political situation? What would be your suggestions, your demands?

Dr. Dirk Köckler:First we [should] make a clear separation between practicability and electability in politics. We concentrate on practicability. We believe in the market, and we have a very national focus. 95 percent of our actions are in a national context. For this reason, and we have drawn attention to this here very well, the issue of renewable energy, biodiesel, bioethanol, it is a very important part of all this, also in the context of our logistics. Basically, we are distributors. We transport products from A to B. We are clearly committed to using the combustion engine, and that will be true in ten years from now and beyond that. We have a clear view of the issues. I will give an example: Mr. Özdemir was quoted. It gave him great pleasure to state that 30 percent of our agriculture is bio. I will let you guess what we have collected, in this harvest, as the largest collector and distributor in Germany – we have collected less than 1 percent bio-grain, when measured directly. That means it is just a political wish. There was talk of ideology, of dogmatism, diametrically opposed to the entrepreneurial decisions taken by our farmers. Yes, we had difficult conditions in the harvest, and accordingly a lot of grain is marketed in a conventional manner, and the market for bio-produce simply does not take up this grain. And I think this is an important factor for us as agricultural business people, who typically think in generational cycles, to place this long-term nature of our actions above politics. Mr. Sauter characterised this issue briefly, in that you are not measured by what you do. For us, it is completely different. We just have to make sure that our farming families do not lose the joy of farming, that they don’t get put off by the ideological trends, that children aren’t treated with hostility in schools because of the fact that their parents are farmers, because they keep livestock and, above all, because they live in rural areas. We are pleased to be active there, and I make an optimistic conclusion that we are focussing on the market, despite all the uncertainties of politics, and we have decades of familiarity with EU agricultural policy.

Claudius Nießen:Dr. Köckler, Mr. Sauter! Thank you very much for this comprehensive insight into what is – I think we have all seen this – a very, very complex subject that we have discussed today in this autumn episode of StrawClever. We have heard what a contribution agriculture and bioenergy can make to climate protection and to security of supply, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank our listeners once again. And, of course, until next time and the next episode of StrawClever, which you can find on Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and of course on the internet on the website. Gentlemen, many, many thanks for this opportunity to talk with you.

Claus Sauter:Thank you, Mr. Nießen!

Dr. Dirk Köckler:You are welcome, Mr. Nießen!

Claus Sauter:And also thank you to you, Dr. Köckler, for taking the time to be with us.

Dr. Dirk Köckler:You are welcome!

The #StrawClever podcast can be downloaded using the Apple Podcast, Deezer, Google Podcast, Spotify, and from the website.



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