In late 2016, Benedikt Bösel left a career in investment banking and venture capital and take over the management of his family’s 3,000-hectare farm in Brandenburg, East Germany.
In 2018, he had to sustain the farm through a prolonged drought in a region that also has very sandy soils. Even so, it was essential to get the farm to peak yielding levels.
This meant venturing into soil analysis and soil health, which ultimately led him to regenerative agriculture and introducing livestock on the farm for the first time in decades. Bösel now sells this meat, that’s regeneratively raised using rotational grazing techniques, under the brand Gut & Bösel.
Bösel has opened the farm to agtech startups and researchers for soil testing; farmers interested in regenerative agriculture but lacking in land can also use it and he hosts numerous gatherings a year, including hosting thought leaders in the regenerative agriculture industry such as Gabe Brown and Ernst Gotsch. Bösel now serves as chairman of the AgTech Platform of the German Association of Startups.
These innovations led him to be named “Farmer of the Year 2022” at the Ceres Awards in Berlin.
After recently winning Germany’s “Farmer of the Year” award, as one of the first regenerative farmers globally to win such a national award, gave AFN an update on the farm, ramping up research activities and a new documentary with Disney+ to hype up agriculture by spotlighting Gut & Bösel’s work and research.
AFN: In 2019, you were running lots of regen ag workshops and projects. What’s been the outcome of all that?
BB: We have been very fortunate these last years in finding people and partners to build an independent on-farm research living lab for regenerative, multifunctional land-use models in one of the driest areas of Germany. Through our foundation [Finck Foundation] we are now able to gather all the data and processes together with our scientific partners to try to show that these alternative land-use models are economically, ecologically, and socially advanced when compared to the usual set of practices.
Our focus areas are agroforestry and syntropic agroforestry as well as our own syntropic tree nursery, composting, holistic grazing on our arable land as well as investigating how to transform our pine monoculture forests with these techniques.
We need to publish open-source cost or revenue data to bring these methodologies to scale. Only if a farmer can do a reliable profit and loss estimation will he or she invest in such a model. Today, we just don’t have enough data points to do that.
We are also trying to gather the ecological and social benefits that are connected to changing the land-use set-up. We believe these will soon be monetized, which will allow for more room in the much-needed transformation.
Talking about transformation, we have had five years of drought now and we are seeing the beautiful potential of multifunctional agriculture all while experiencing an ever-harder economic reality.
AFN: What are some of your highlights since then?
BB: Definitely the birth of my daughter last year!
But also, I am just always so grateful for good people. People that live and work with us, people that support us, people that just take action and get going!
I would also mention the development of our syntropic seed system. This very diverse system has a focus on apples, plums and pears, which we all planted by applying pomace. This way we have between five to 30 seeds applied on a thin row of about 50 cm. The young trees that have grown from those seeds, which we will craft after two to four years out on the field, have been the most vital and thriving fruit trees imaginable in this terrible year of drought and heat.
All we did as management practice was to mulch them on both sides and the huge density and variety from those syntropic systems supports and protects them. Seeing how nature is best when left to choose what’s right and at which spot was giving us all so much joy and hope!
AFN: Do you have any concerns about the hype around regen ag?
BB: I am grateful for the attention agriculture in general is receiving.
I believe agriculture is the most direct tool in overcoming some of the biggest problems of our time such as climate adaptation, health, biodiversity, equality, development of rural areas, and education.
All of this is always agriculture, forestry, and water management. So yes, I think we should hype agriculture even more!
This is why we agreed to film a documentary with Disney+ about our work, which will be available for streaming in 2023.
But do I have concerns? Sure. Farmers have in the last 30 to 40 years have only done what was asked of them: producing as much as possible for the smallest possible price. They have invested and specialized further and further and today often are highly in debt, highly dependent and caught in their production system with no immediate chance to getting out.
So what we really need is to transform the political framework, the focus of the scientific community, the ‘why’ of developing technology, our definition of ‘innovation,’ access to land and the educational system and content for farmers.
These systematic changes are lagging behind but are the very basis of a real and purposeful transformation of our agricultural and food systems.
AFN: Would you consider a carbon market scheme as an additional source of revenue for the farm?
BB: I am not the biggest fan of the carbon market schemes. It is not the farmers who benefit from it.
I also am critical of the very narrow perspective of just “carbon.” We need to look at a set of principles and characteristics of a certain region and its natural ecosystem and assign social and ecosystem services that should be monetized accordingly. Carbon could be one of them.
However, as much as I believe we need to quantify and monetize all of these services that are associated with certain management practices on land or in forests, we have to really be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to commoditize and trade those “assets.”
You can already see how many are set up for exactly that. This really is a very serious problem.
AFN: You won the Ceres Farmer of the Year award. Why do you think now was the time to award the first regenerative farmer in Germany?
BB: Thank you – I will pass this on to my team! They are really the reason why we won, showing every day that agriculture is so much more than just primary production.
Having so many young, bright and motivated people on the farm doing amazing work every day is surely why the jury was impressed. And maybe also the fact that we started to look for new ways of farming despite, or even because of, the harshness of the area here in Brandenburg.
Farmers everywhere are looking for answers, we don’t necessarily have any yet, but we have started raising many questions.
Luckily there are so many farmers and initiatives out there that are doing the same. I am convinced we will see a radical change of land-use in the future.
How can New Zealand’s agri-innovation ecosystem become the world leader it should be?