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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Organic farming and biomass production

Thematic area: Food, agriculture, genetically modified crops
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Parlamentarischer Beirat für nachhaltige Entwicklung
Status: completed
Duration: 2010 till 2012

Background and central aspects of the topic

The national sustainability strategy of the German government includes the aim of increasing the proportion of organic farming in the next few years to 20% of productive agricultural land (from 5.4% in 2008). At the same time, the national sustainability strategy also plans to increase the share of renewable energy in primary energy consumption to 10% and in gross electricity consumption to at least 30% by the year 2020. The resolutions passed by the Cabinet of the time in Meseberg in August 2007 included an even higher target value of 16% of renewable energy in primary energy consumption by the year 2020. In any case, biomass represents the most important renewable energy source, accounting for around two-thirds of the whole. Accordingly the proportion of bioenergy in overall primary energy consumption is intended to further develop from 4.9% in 2007 to 11% in 2020.

Provision of bioenergy depends increasingly on the agricultural cultivation of energy crops. This cultivation also covers areas which were previously used for food production (or were part of set-aside schemes). At the same time, ecological food production requires a larger land area per unit produced than does conventional production. In order to extend ecological agriculture to a proportion of 30% in 2030, calculated scenarios have indicated that the acreage in Germany would have to extended by about 10% (or 1.3 million ha). In the past few years, a trend could be observed towards the increasing use of imports to meet the growing demand for ecological foodstuffs in Germany. Analyses carried out by TAB in the context of the most recently concluded project »Opportunities and Challenges Facing New Energy Crops« (the final report will be published in spring 2011) have shown that the future development of competition for acreage is dependent on a multitude of factors.

Farmers who work ecologically are some of the pioneers of biogas production. In the past few years, they have expressed a high demand for biogas plants. The reasons include improved exploitation of grassland and particularly clover pastures in all forms of operations, but particularly in arable farming. Reports of actual experience state that yield increases of up to 30% can be achieved with biogas slurry. In this way, the area required for organic farming would be reduced and at the same time a contribution made to renewable energy provision. However, there are controversial debates on the extent to which further environmental services provided by organic farming (e.g. humus content of the soil) are positively or negatively influenced by spreading biogas slurry.

Objectives and approach

In the TA project, the aim is to examine whether organic farming and biomass production for energy and material purposes can be interconnected more closely in the future in order to satisfy a growing demand in both areas, or whether these two aims of the national sustainability strategy are actually at odds with one another. If the latter is true, a priority would have to be set either on organic farming or on biomass production.

In the above-mentioned TAB project, »Opportunities and Challenges Facing New Energy Crops", issues concerning competition in terms of acreage and usage have already been investigated at international, national and regional levels. For this reason, an in-depth study based on the completed TAB project will be conducted with the following focus points of investigation:

  • Competition between the two sustainability aims of organic farming and energy crop use as part of renewable energy production (in particularly acreage requirements under different conditions).
  • Determining reasons and impediments to changing over to organic farming in the past few years (for instance, influence of the spread of energy crop cultivation)
  • Opportunities for integrating bioenergy production and energy crop use in organic farming and their effect on acreage requirements and ecological system benefits.