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Making room for blossoms and bees

On farms across Germany, Cargill is supporting investments in sustainable biodiversity

March 05, 2018

Most days for Jürgen Hirschfeld, it’s about his crops. But he’s making room for the bees, too.

He and his son own a farm in Seesen, in the heart of Germany. Their crops are typical for the region—sugar beets, rapeseed and winter wheat. And like a number of farmers who work with Cargill, he’s also started setting aside a portion of his land for local plants and pollinators.

In the big picture, it’s a modest outlay—perhaps a few hectares. But multiplied across dozens of farms, it’s part of a concerted effort to improve biodiversity and wildlife habitats.

“For me there was no question that I would get involved,” Hirschfeld said, “and it has paid off for everyone involved—for me as a farmer, for Cargill and for nature.”

Hirschfeld and his son are part of a group of farmers who, with the help of Cargill and local farmer’s groups, have agreed over the past few years to dedicate strips of land for wildflowers, fruit trees and refuge for wild animals.

The wildlife the strips attract—particularly bees—helps pollinate crops and improve yields, said Xenia Worrall, regional lead for Cargill’s grain and oilseeds business in Germany and Poland. She’s been a driving force behind the biodiversity program, which began as a joint effort with a customer in 2010 and has since become part of Cargill’s environmental and sustainable agriculture work in the region.

In 2016, about 60 farmers in Germany planted a total of roughly 80 hectares of land for the program. They had help from Cargill volunteers, who helped farmers coordinate and did some of the planting themselves.

‘The farmers and the bees need each other’

Cargill’s Salzgitter location, where Worrall is based, processes rapeseed into oil and refined products for the domestic oil market and food industry. It also processes malt for breweries, and has a hand in the grain trade. About 120 people work at Cargill in Salzgitter—one of 12 Cargill locations in the country that employee 1,700 people overall.

“Cargill invested in biodiversity projects because we believe we have to give something back to our environment,” Worrall said. “We also understand the necessity to support biodiversity in order to have good growth of grains and oilseeds for our own facilities.”

For farmers like Memford Strivinov, it’s a way to balance the need for productive farmland with environmental stewardship and public trust.

“The population in the country loves to have a big variety of plants and flowers and butterflies,” he said. “If you want to continue farming, you can’t harm the environment. The farmers and the bees need each other.”

And working on sustainability through voluntary private projects is far more attractive to farmers than working under government mandates, said Volker Meier, CEO of the German agricultural association Braunschweiger Lan.

Meier said his association’s 4,500 members have been active in sharing tips—what seed mixes to try, what varieties are best suited to a particular location—and building enthusiasm for the project among their peers.

“We would like to spread the project on many shoulders so that many people can get involved,” he said.

A shared responsibility

Worrall said the program is part of Cargill’s broader commitment to sustainability, and a good example of how the company can involve everyone up and down the supply chain, from employees to farmers to local partners and customers.

“This project is a very good model because we actually work together with a wide range of people,” she said. “Our partners very much appreciate that Cargill is not only investing money, but also that we support them with our volunteer time.”

Henning Ehlers, another farmer participating in the program, knows that the benefits to his own farm might not be immediately apparent, or even quantifiable in a diverse ecosystem.
“For some animals, we might not know yet which benefits they have. But we must not risk that they become extinct,” he said. “That is why it is important to offer a strip of land where we preserve the animals living here.”

Ehlers said he sees the program as an investment in his own legacy.

“For me, it’s important to think long term so that at the end of my life, when looking back, I’ll be able to say that I have not devastated the planet but have actually acted in a way that I would like others to act as well,” he said. “This means I do not just take, but also give.”