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Alfred Schreiberhuber - Our most important capital is the soil

Interview by Erminia Ciarleglio, DLG

Dr Schreiberhuber, please describe your estate management.

Our fields are located in the Traunviertel region of the province of Upper Austria, and specifically in the central arable area of the main production region of the Alpine foothills. The site is 271 metres above sea level, in the warmest part of the province of Upper Austria, and has a warm, humid climate, also known as the "beech climate". This climate is mild and characterised by a long vegetation period and early ripening temperatures. The long-term average annual temperature is 9.1 °C over a 50-year period. The average annual precipitation is 848 mm. In terms of plant geography and climatology, this area belongs to the lower Baltic stage with a slight Pannonian influence.

The soils are predominantly lime-free sedimentary brown earths, the soil types of which are very diverse, such as loamy silts, silty loams and clays, partly with loess layers.

Our most important capital, the soil, is cultivated sustainably and gently in the form of minimum tillage. Initially, this technique was used for cereals in 1975, but since 2010 we have been working entirely without ploughs and since 2015 we have been using tractors with caterpillar undercarriages that are gentle on the soil.

What is being cultivated on your fields?

About 50 percent of the arable land is cultivated with cereals, with seed production dominating. Winter wheat, triticale and spelt are grown. The area of soya has been greatly expanded in recent years, and seed or consumer goods are produced. Grain maize is used for ethanol production, sugar beet for sugar production. The high share of seed production is due to the participation in a seed breeding company.

How do you realise sustainability?

The goal of sustainable agriculture on the farm, which has been in the family for many generations, is to create a basis for the production of high-quality food. In doing so, no more must be taken from the system than can be provided again in the future. Sustainable systems are developed through the targeted and reduced use of inputs, the use of caterpillar tracks for soil-conserving driving during soil cultivation and especially during harvesting.

How exactly do you cooperate with nature and environmental organisations?

For birds, it is a programme for the skylark. So-called lark windows are created in the stands. In areas with lapwing populations, driving in the fields is severely restricted at certain times. Bees are supported by planting bee pastures with special seed mixtures on set-aside areas and field margins. The fawn population is monitored with the help of aerial drones and mowing of these areas is delayed until the fawns have fledged.

You invest in renewable energy sources with fast-growing trees on arable land. What are the advantages of an "energy forest"?

Energy forests are planted on recultivated land and on land with the lowest soil points and thus compete very little with food production. The "fast" wood is turned into wood chips, some of which are used to generate heat on the farm and some of which are supplied to a neighbouring large heating plant.

Currently, a photovoltaic plant is being planned on low-yield land, as there are industrial companies in the immediate vicinity, which are showing great interest in this produced energy as future potential customers.

You have been a DLG member for 27 years and often visited AGRITECHNICA. What do you appreciate about this trade fair?

I particularly appreciate the information on site and the personal contact with partners that one encounters at this fair. Our company works intensively with manufacturers in the development and testing of agricultural machinery. At the fair, you can get the best information about the current state of the industry and at the same time analyse the trend for further developments. I consider personal discussions with company owners, managers and technicians to be very important in our increasingly impersonal society.

Where do you see the major challenges for agricultural engineering in the future?

I see the provision of affordable, resource-saving technology for sustainable food production as the future challenges for agricultural engineering. Furthermore, the optimal use of digitalisation for environmentally friendly farming methods.

How do you benefit from the many years of DLG membership?

Max Eyth's guiding principle "to promote all branches of agriculture and to demonstrate machines and equipment" is currently being lived here.

There are three areas from which I have benefited and continue to benefit during my long DLG membership. First and foremost are the publications that DLG produces and makes available:

The technical, technological and organisational areas of agriculture are dealt with here in an objective and up-to-date manner and represent for me essential information for the farm.

The presentation of international agricultural technology is a great decision-making aid for investments.

Finally, it is the personal and international contacts with professional colleagues and scientists that I have been able to establish through this long-standing membership and would not want to miss in the future.