The third function of a good soil is the capacity to clean itself, because all the water that penetrates the soil is cleaned by soil organisms. In dead soils this is not possible. The fourth important function is the feed to the groundwater. Water that does not penetrate the soil is not available to the water reserve. In healthy soils the groundwater is constantly replenished, which allows us to take water out again without lowering the groundwater table to a dangerous degree. This is how a sustainable system comes into being: healthy soil, plants and water mean healthy humans. This is why it is so crucial to nurture our soils using organic methods. In our guidelines for organic mineral water 12 years ago we already stipulated that every producer of organic mineral water has to perform the role of water and climate protector.
For more than four decades, you and your company have made it your business to protect water and keep it clean, given that it is the most important raw material for your products. What were the most important measures that you took?
As far back as 1980 we at Lammsbräu were in no doubt that, along with the conservative management of sources and the avoidance of waste water, organic farming is the best way to protect soil and water. Today we are proud that here in the Oberpfalz and Mittelfranken region we have around 6,000 hectares that have been free of chemical additives for over 30 years. This makes an enormous contribution to protecting our water system. The same idea of protecting water over the long term by supporting organic farming and the sustained protection of sources is also central to the organic mineral water concept that we and our colleagues from the Quality Association for Organic Mineral Water are promoting. That’s why the objective of the mineral springs the association organizes is 100 % organic farming.
In the meantime we are in consensus with policy-makers in this regard. The German government has agreed a target of 20 % organic farming by 2030, while Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are already at 30 %. You can see that things are finally happening.
Organic farming plays a key role. Is there proof of this?
Here again, it’s worth taking a look at the Quality Association’s black books. For example, thanks to the changeover to organic farming, water resources in Austria have recovered in the relevant regions. These findings are confirmed by metastudies like the new investigation conducted by the Thuenen Institute in collaboration with a number of universities. The direct correlation between nitrate and pesticide application and water quality and the reserves of uncontaminated water is undisputed. If you dump agrochemicals onto the fields, sooner or later you’ll find residues from systemic pesticides, chemical fertilisers, slurry or medicines in the water. Everything is connected to everything else. The only thing that helps is to stop the application of pollutants from above. It really is high time to turn things around!
What is the future vision of your water protection strategy? Do we need a water “transition” and more organic farming?
There’s no question that we need 100 % organic farming that is our vision. This will give us control over the quality of the soils and protection against the contamination of our water. But it is also clear that conventional farmers are in an impasse and that we need to help them find a way out. Regenerative agriculture enables the soils to be rehabilitated gradually and creates a prospect for the farmers who will see that soil cultivation and natural methods really can revitalise soil as a resource in the medium term. It is really great for everyone involved to observe how nature regenerates itself independently if we do not destroy it. These are genuine light bulb moments and many farmers can scarcely believe it. If you look at India, for example, and how quickly the transition to 100% organic farming is being completed in some states, that is very encouraging and hopeful. On the other hand you have to ask yourself why this is not possible here as well.
We finally have to start accepting responsibility and fulfil the tasks necessary to protect our future. Consider that 1 % humus formation per hectare due to organic farming can also absorb 40 – 60 metric tons of CO2. In addition to reforestation this gives us incredibly effective leverage and does a lot to reduce the burden on the climate.
Access to clean water is a human right. How can we manage this in the future?
Because water is the most important food, it is of course also one of our tasks to take responsibility in the Global South. In this regard, I’ve already talked about the positive effects of increased organic farming. But there also has to be on-site assistance. NGOs like Viva con Aqua, for example, are doing a great job there and are worthy of support in every respect. Apart from building wells, community capacity building (helping people help themselves) for the development of organic structures in local farming is a sensible approach, as is training in how to deal with waste water. Forecasts by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research indicate that failure to comply with the 1.5° target would have devastating consequences, including the impossibility of living in the Sub-Saharan region. Combined with climate refugees due to rising sea levels, this would trigger unprecedented mass migration. In these countries in particular every drop of water counts, and we need to show solidarity and accept our responsibility as soon as possible.
The interview was conducted by Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International
Vita Dr Franz Ehrnsperger ist Chairman of the Qualitätsgemeinschaft Bio-Mineralwasser e.V. and Senior Manager of Neumarkter Lammsbräu. He es a graduated master brewer with a degree in business administration. In 1971 he became the 6th generation to take over the management of the family company, Neumarkter Lammsbräu. Since as far back as 1977 he has defined environmental protection as a corporate goal, and is pursuing this objective systematically and with passion, converting the brewery completely to a sustainable business concept and 100 % organic production. Since 1995 Neumarkter Lammsbräu has produced only organic beverages, including BioKristall, the first certified organic mineral water. Ehrnsperger founded a producers’ association for organic brewing ingredients that today includes more than 160 organic farmers. He has received multiple awards for his outstanding commitment, including “Eco-manager of the year” and the German Environmental Award. In 2018 his son Johannes succeeded him as the 7th generation of the family to manage Neumarkter Lammsbräu.