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Nice that you want to learn more about permaculture, our work and our projects.
The VIENNA BIENNALE FOR CHANGE 2021 has invited us to present our ideas “for overcoming the overall climate and ecological crisis”.

What can the future of agriculture look like? When is a forest “climate-ready”? And is what we call climate change really responsible for the loss of biodiversity, dry arable soils, crop failures and the enormous bark beetle damage?

In the following, Josef Andreas Holzer explains his view of things and why a planet that is getting hotter is showing us the way to better, more responsible use of natural resources.
The forestry and agriculturalist runs the Krameterhof farm in Salzburg’s Lungau region and works internationally as a permaculture consultant and planner. His office, Holzer Permaculture Solutions GmbH, develops innovative, economically viable concepts that think culture and nature together.

“Climate change shows us how unstable our agricultural and forestry production systems are.”
(German spoken Language)

There is no question that there is man-made climate change or global warming.
Nevertheless, the problems we see and have to deal with today – in agriculture and forestry – are not caused by climate change alone. In the end, climate change is a magnifying glass that shows us how unstable our production systems in agriculture and forestry are and how big the mistakes we have made over many decades so far are.
In industrial agriculture and forestry, which of course accounts for the majority of land and production globally and also here in Austria, we very often work with a yield-maximising system that is very vulnerable, very fragile with regard to the smallest changes. For many decades, we have not really taken into account the most important factors in agriculture, which are the natural conditions – the location factors: the soil, the climate, the water. And to the ecosystems that enable us to produce in the first place. For example, the soil ecosystem, which is the basis for all agricultural production. In recent decades, we have simply not paid attention to the processes within these ecosystems, to their requirements.
Let’s look at the forest as an example. At the moment, the forest in Austria is apparently under massive pressure: we have bark beetle calamities, drought damage in many regions, windthrow. Massive problems, and it seems that the forest is actually endangered, that there is another forest dieback due to climate change. There are the slogans that the forest is not climate-proof and so on, but you can’t really let that stand. The truth is that more forest is growing in Austria every year – in other words, there is more forest. Half of the country’s area is already almost forest and it is not getting any less. So the problem we have is not climate change, nor is it the forest that has the problem, but it is the forestry industry that has the problem, because the forestry industry has put maximising yields before adapting to the location and before safe, near-natural forestry. This means that for decades forestry has focused on rationalised, yield-optimised management and has forgotten to take into account the natural opportunities, the locations, the requirements of the tree species it works with or even a mixture of tree species, and this has led to the fact that around 60% of the wood produced in Austria comes from only one tree species. That this tree species, which would actually be adapted to the high altitudes, the montane altitudes and above in the mountains – the spruce, picea babies – is today distributed over the entire national area and not only distributed but often represents really stock-forming pure cultures, monocultures in areas where it does not belong at all. Where it is too warm and where it is too dry for this tree species, and if you then establish an already unstable system such as a monoculture, an age class forest in a region with a tree species that does not belong there, you do not need to be surprised if you get into difficulties. In other words, the problems that forestry has today are of its own making. These problems are only shown to us more strongly by climate change, that it is far too dry there for this work. It is absolutely wrong to cultivate pure spruce in areas with rainfall of less than 600 mm, but this has been done for decades and now it is relatively easy to say that we now have the bark beetle, which is multiplying due to climate change and it is raining due to climate change, it is getting drier, it is getting hotter and now the tree species has problems there, but of course that is not true. The problem is maybe a bit stronger at the moment, but the problem has always been there. It’s just that it’s showing itself more strongly now. That’s why climate change is sometimes used as an excuse at the moment, and that’s often the case, and I say that because I think it’s extremely important that we develop a certain awareness of the problem. We can only go new ways and find solutions if we are aware of the problems and if we don’t lie to ourselves and say that we can’t do anything about it, because these are always external factors, but that is not the case. And it is exactly the same in agriculture. The problem that we have much too hot and dry summers and extreme summers in agriculture and therefore have production losses cannot be blamed on climate change alone, if you clear out landscapes, consolidate huge flat areas to such an extent that you create steppe-like regions from a stable, resistant, small-scale cultivated landscape, that you remove all the wind brakes from these areas, divert the water away, drench them and so on. If the soils are cultivated for decades in such a way that soil life is destroyed and degraded, so that the soils can no longer hold water, then one need not be surprised that suddenly, when there is a dry summer, nothing grows anymore due to wind dehydration and erosion and soil destruction. We have to be aware that we ourselves are making a massive contribution to the fact that any climate changes are already having such a massive impact. We have to understand that we have to deal with our production bases, with the soil, with our land in such a responsible way that we do not have difficulties even with the smallest change in the climate and it is also easily possible by dealing a little with nature, by protecting the soil, by building up humus, by cultivating areas in crop rotation. Perhaps leaving a little structure in the landscape so that there is no wind erosion and drying out of the land and so on …
Just deal with the basics of good agriculture. Using crops that are adapted to the location. If you would deal with these things, then we don’t have to worry too much about climate change in the next decades. Of course we have to react to it, but we don’t need to panic if we are aware that the problems we have today are to a large extent systematic problems in agriculture and forestry and not yet climate change. Climate change simply shows us the weaknesses of our production systems on a massive scale.

In the second part of the conversation, Josef uses the example of how we deal with water to show the short-sightedness of the present and outlines how things could be done better.

“We can bring water back into the soil ecosystem with simple means.”
(German spoken Language)

If you look at climate change, one of the big problems is always water. It’s getting hotter, it’s getting drier, precipitation is distributed more unevenly and when it comes, it’s often stronger and then you have the problem of where to put all the water, which then even causes damage. You have to be aware that these problems we have are really of our own making. Because the landscape has been changed in such a way that we only drain off the water and that it can no longer seep into the soil and we simply drain it away and drain it away and drain it away because it bothers us on our sealed areas. Because it bothers us on our agricultural land. Then we don’t need to be surprised when we lack water in the landscape and in agriculture. So if we banish water from the landscape, we don’t need to be surprised when it is missing.

The second big problem with water in agriculture is the soil. In conventional, industrial agriculture, no thought has been given to the soil ecosystem for a long time, or it still is not. The soil is seen as a substrate. Fertilisers are applied, weeds are worked out with machines, or they are sprayed away. Fertiliser is applied and the plants just stand there and that works as long as you can draw on the resources of the past. It somehow works for that long, but the soil changes as a result. You destroy the soil ecosystem, you destroy soil life, you break down humus. Through erosion, we often lose unimaginable amounts of topsoil, of humus – of our basis for production. And you change the soil in such a way that at some point it is no longer able to store water and provide nutrients for the plants. If the water is no longer retained in the soil and it is simply secured and gone when it rains, if nutrients can no longer be retained in the soil, then this is not yet a problem of climate change and the changing precipitation situation, but rather a systemic problem of agriculture, and if we want to find solutions, then we have to start precisely at these problem points.

This means that we will only achieve food security if we establish stable cultivated landscapes that are, on the one hand, adapted to the conditions of the individual locations, i.e. represent an individual solution, and on the other hand, take into account nature and the processes and procedures in nature and build on this and understand that it only works with nature. That you need a healthy and living soil so that you can produce at all. Because only then will you have nutrients and water. The good thing about this, and what actually makes me feel positive, because I am a very optimistic, positive-thinking person, is that we don’t have to reinvent anything.

We can very easily achieve a great effect with basically simple means. For example, with a better structured cultivated landscape, with the awareness that we have to store water in the soil, a braking of the water and an increase in infiltration, a soil that is properly rooted and has soil life, because then you not only have a water reservoir, you also bring the water in, you increase the types of infiltration. A healthy soil that is able to absorb water and not only CO2 – also a topic, of course – but water is also a big issue. And I can only keep these living ecosystems, their living soil, alive and productive and functional through agricultural management, by not subordinating my entire management to mechanical processing, but the other way round: subordinating my mechanical solutions to the preservation and needs of the soil, and that is actually not a problem.

That I manage agriculture in such a way that it keeps this soil functional, that I ensure that I do not compact it with machines, that I do not erode it, that I do not destroy it with mineral fertilisers and sprays. I make sure that I impair or even kill the soil life so massively that it can no longer work and the soil is no longer functional. I make sure that it is always a living system that is dependent on always having vegetation, i.e. no open soils that not only have an erosive effect but also deprive the soil life of its basis for life. That means crop rotation, soil cover, good rooting and so on.

There are many ways in which good sustainable agricultural practice can keep our cultural landscape resilient and productive and even highly productive and liveable. And that is what we have to do.

For decades, our cultivated landscapes have been managed according to rules and criteria that are not oriented towards nature and its processes, but towards the needs of the market or industry. Nature-based agriculture is said to be uneconomical, but is that true?

“Die Natur begegnet Mangel mit Vielfalt.”
(German spoken Language)

As part of the VIENNA BIENNALE FOR CHANGE 2021, we will be showing how our permaculture consultancy and planning office works by means of one of the latest projects of Holzer Permaculture Solutions.
It is an area in the south of France that we were able to fill with life again after it had lain almost fallow for decades. The key to the reclamation of the La Plume property is – as is so often the case – water, as Josef A. Holzer explains.

“Das Potenzial von Kulturlandschaften erkennen, fördern und mehrfach nutzen.”
(German spoken Language)

The water landscape that Holzer Permaculture GmbH implemented in La Plume in a seven-week construction period can be seen as a model in the MAK. For illustration purposes, we have depicted the corresponding landscape twice: once in its original state and once after we have embedded four ponds, which are part of an extensive water retention system, into the landscape.

Below you can see how Oliver Krische and Andreas Schindler set up the two models on a scale of 500:1 in the MAK. 

Oliver Krische prepares the model that is to be created in a wooden box:

A printout of an orthophoto (an aerial photograph) of the area to be depicted is stuck to the bottom of the simple construction. The contour lines of the terrain are also drawn on it, with the help of which a 3D model can be created.

Oliver Krische prepares the model (500:1) that is to be created in a wooden box: A printout of an orthophoto (an aerial photograph) of the area to be depicted is stuck to the bottom of the simple construction. The contour lines of the terrain are also drawn on it, with the help of which a 3D model can be created.

To build the model, drill holes in the bottom of the wooden box along the contour lines (5 metres apart). Insert wooden skewers into these holes and cut them according to the height line.

To build the model, drill holes in the bottom of the wooden box along the contour lines (5 metres apart). Insert wooden skewers into these holes and cut them according to the height line.

Once you have placed enough (height) points or skewers, you can start to give the model shape.

Once you have placed enough (height) points or skewers, you can start to give the model shape.

Play sand is very suitable for shaping such a model: it is moist, can be compacted well and therefore remains dimensionally stable for a long time. Layer by layer, the sand is applied in the box and pressed on with the hands.

Play sand is very suitable for shaping such a model: it is moist, can be compacted well and therefore remains dimensionally stable for a long time. Layer by layer, the sand is applied in the box and pressed on with the hands.

The model gradually takes shape. Checking glances at the orthophoto and the contour lines shown help to shape it in detail.

The model takes shape. Checking glances at the orthophoto and the contour lines shown help to shape the details.

Oliver Krische fills the model with “water” in the last work step.

Oliver Krische fills the model with “water” in the last work step.

IMG_0951-1000px IMG_0950-1000px

The model on the left shows the landscape we found

The model on the left shows the landscape we found. [“Before”]

The model on the right shows the project area after seven weeks of construction. [“After”]

La Plume – the Project

Holzer Permaculture Solutions conceived and realized a retention system project developed for the La Plume estate in La Penne, a small village in the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Read more …

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Krameterhof Newsletter

Abonniere den Krameterhof-Newsletter zum Thema Permakultur. Erhalte immer das aktuelle Kursprogramm. Nicht mehr als eine E-Mail pro Monat.

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