Second pillar crucial for Austrian agriculture

The CAP’s second pillar is important for Austrian agriculture and development of its rural areas, writes Jacqueline Wijbenga.

To underline its significance, the ENAJ low-budget press trip held in September during the informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers focused on the rural development made possible by this second pillar. 

Austria is in the EU head seat in the second half of 2018. The Austrian guild for agricultural journalists in conjunction with the Austrian ministry of agricultural put together an excursion program highlighting the focus point of the statement of Elisabeth Köstinger. The Austrian minister of agriculture was the host of the informal meeting of EU agricultural ministers at the end of September. Her plea to her European colleagues with regard to the CAP reform is to focus on maintaining the second pillar of the policy. “For Austria and its rural development the second pillar is of great importance,” according to Köstinger. “Without the EU and the second pillar we can’t maintain our rural areas.”

To underline the developments made possible by the finances received from the second pillar, the European journalist were invited to visit several farmers in the surroundings of Vienna, varying from a winery, an ice producer/dairy and a goat dairy/cheese maker. All these entrepreneurs in recent years benefited from the second pillar of the CAP payment system.

Wine family owned

Grapes are an important crop for Austria. A large part of the Austrian wineries are family owned companies who grow their own grapes and produce their own unique wines. This is also the case at the Renner winery. Just recently father Helmut handed over the winery to his two daughters. Stephanie and her sister continue to produce wines in the family tradition laid out by their grandfather and father, but also explore new ways to produce wines and look for new markets. For this purpose they introduced the brand name RennerSisters. Under this name they produce the so called natural wines. The sisters believe in the pure product without additives and strive to produce wines without adding extra’s. “Nature has to do it”, says Stephanie. Natural wines are a novel product and for many wine experts unfamiliar. The European journalists who tried this for the first time were divided in their opinion whether to like it or not.

In the old cellar underneath the house the wines are stored in oak wood barrels, according to family tradition. At the upper level however an impressive production unit completely fitted in stainless steel is the heart of the winery. These investments, including the reception and tasting room, were (partly) possible thanks to support from the second pillar of the CAP payment system. The investments were already done by father Helmut before he handed the company over to his daughters. “Stepping in to a modern facility made it easier to make the decision to change my career from Vienna back to the country side and continue the family tradition,” says Stephanie.

Ice cream for extra value

At Eis Gleisser farm in Buckligen Welt (the land of the thousand hills) the focus is on ice cream. Andrea and Georg Blockberger based in Krumbach looked for an opportunity to put extra value to the milk from their Simmentaler cows. They decided ice cream would be their chance to make a difference. They started off with developing dairy based ice cream with different flavours based on local products such as poppy seeds and pumpkin oil. Nowadays in summer they produce fruit ice cream, without milk. Again, local produce is the base of their product development. “Our aim is to create value with local or regional products. By doing so our ice cream stands out from other ice creams,” explains Andrea Blockberger. Setting of with experimenting in their own kitchen, nowadays a modern production unit is part of the farm. The production unit build in 2016 also contains a reception room, a shop and a restaurant, all for the greater part financed with European funds from the second pillar. On top of that the dairy farm has a reception room where visitors can learn more about the cows. On a busy summer day up to 3000 people a day visit the farm. During the visit of the European ministers and journalists most cows choose to remain in the hills around the farm. “Our animals have freedom of movement at all times, accept at milking time.”

The Blockbergers milk around 50 cows which produce on average 2500 litre of milk per day (which equals 1700 litre of ice cream). The amount of milk produced is enough to meet the demand for the ice cream production. During winter, when the ice cream production is lower, the surplus is delivered to a milk cooperative in the region. Besides selling the ice cream in their own shop and restaurant, the Blockbergers also sell to local and regional restaurants and have nine dedicated Eis Gleisser shops they own in the larger Austrian cities. Tasting the different ice cream flavours, its not hard for the journalists to image that this type of product is attractive to consumers. Exporting the product is not in the plans of the entrepreneurs yet. “Our main focus is on our own country. We want to make a product with a difference. By doing so we connect the Austrian rural area to the consumers in the cities and learn to value of the product, the producers and their animals.”

Ministers at an ecological goat farm

A similar story was told by the Mandl family. They changed from a cow dairy to an ecological goat dairy and decided to produce their own goat cheese as an added value product in order to generate enough income from the farm. During lunch at the goat farm ministers and journalists had a chance to exchange experience and ideas about the CAP reform, the topic on the table during the informal meeting.

Most ministers understand the importance of the second pillar for the Austrian agriculture. However, many of them underlined the necessity to focus on the first pillar. “Without a healthy financed first pillar, the second pillar has no function,” according to the Dutch minister Carola Schouten. This is also the approach of the European farmer collective Copa-Cogeca. Its vice-president Franz Reisecker (president of the upper Austrian chamber of agriculture) told the European journalists their aim was to convince the EU ministers not to cut the EU agricultural budget and not to agree with co-financing of the first pillar of CAP. “The first pillar has to be a certainty farmers can rely on. Its payment should not be under scrutiny of the national governments”, states Reisecker.

Is extra EU-budget available?

Maintaining sufficient financial means in the first pillar is going to be a challenge for the EU ministers as most countries are not willing to make extra budget available for the EU to spend. Net-paying countries are stressing the importance of getting a substantial benefit back from Europe. With the current budget that will be a major challenge for the EU commissioner Phil Hogan.

“The aim of CAP is to support the agricultural sector in order to maintain vitality of the rural areas and to secure the quality of European food,” Hogan stated after the informal meeting. And even though Hogan supports the importance of the focus on local and regional produce, he emphasis that Europe also has a responsibility when it comes to feeding the growing world population. “We can’t feed the world with local production. We need European commodities to contribute to the challenge of the global food production.”

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