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Johannes Weber: Organic pork producer from Austria

By Erminia Ciarleglio

DLG member and farmer in Austria, Johannes Weber specialises in the production of organically managed pigs with the resultant pork exported to retail chains and consumers in Germany and Italy as well as being sold on the home market. On two farms he produces weaners that are passed on to contract feeders. All pigs are then processed and sold as bio pork products. The Weber farms also produce organic pig feed. Another enterprise is collection and composting of green waste from communal gardens and parks for sale to gardeners.

Johannes Weber, you manage organic pig farms in Austria. What are the main differences between your »bio« farms and conventional farming businesses?

We have to give our organically managed pigs substantially more pen space.  Straw bedding and outdoor runs are also mandatory for our animals. Feed and any other inputs must be certified as organically produced. This involves following approved crop rotations and subsequent controlled distribution of manure according to strict nutrient limits per hectare.

Organic crop growing requires strategic planning and more time for marketing. How can it still be made more attractive to newcomers?

The strategy involves planning longer crop rotations towards optimal soil nutrition for the respective crops and close attention to soil fertility. A large proportion of our harvests go for feeding the pigs and any cash crops we grow are sown under contract for customers.

One attraction for newcomers to organic production is the potential of higher product prices. But very important in considering such a move is thinking »outside the box« in planning.

What problems do organic farmers face? Or what challenges might they face in the future?

One difficulty involves aligning the expansion of organic farming to match market development and sales possibilities. This applies especially to livestock production. Not to be forgotten also is that any organic products have to offer extra value to consumers: assumed improved taste, or similar claims.  In the long term, selling simply on the basis of organic husbandry is not enough.

What about pig producers and their farms in Germany? Have you visited any?

We encourage regular exchange visits with professional colleagues across the border: with those specialising in organic production, but also with conventional producers.

How is digitization progressing in Austrian livestock barns? And how do you apply it in your business?

We’re really just at the beginning of the development, with classical applications such as sow planner, remote monitoring or GPS control. But with all the current digitization euphoria, we must never underestimate the importance of the human input in optimal animal husbandry.

You’re a DLG member. Has belonging to this worldwide organisation helped you over the years?

The DLG publications and magazines have accompanied and influenced our farming work for many years now. And let’s not forget the extreme importance of the annual exhibitions EuroTier and Agritechnica.