Austrian hay milk farmers collaborate on sustainability drive

Hay milk farmers have shown interest in an Austrian agri-environmental programme  derived from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.

“For the year 2023, 13,400 applications for the ‘hay economy’ measure were received, an increase of 34% compared to the previous year. This shows once again: The hay making is a red-white-red success story. It protects the climate, protects the soil and promotes biodiversity. The high level of participation in the voluntary Hay Farming measure underscores the fact that the program works,” concludes the Austrian minister of agriculture Norbert Totschnig.

“Last year, the special way of farming brought the local hay milk farmers added value in the milk price of €25 million, in the past five years it was a total of € 139 million. Hay milk secures the small-structured agriculture and preserves the alpine pastures,” says the minister.

Around 90% of the hay milk farms are located in the mountain area.

“Our hay milk farmers stand for tradition, quality and sustainability. Hay milk not only tastes good, it is also part of our Austrian identity,” Totschnig adds.

Karl Neuhofer, chairman of ARGE Heumilch Austria, adds:

“The added value generated has enabled us hay milk farmers to continue to invest in sustainability and animal welfare and to keep our farms fit for the future.”

An advantage of the hay economy is the mosaic-like use, which is ensured by the new agri-environmental programme. It ensures that small creatures have a retreat on the meadow and that biodiversity is preserved. With participation, at least 7% biodiversity areas are created, which provide important habitats for insects and birds due to their later cutting time. From 2023, farmers will provide around 40% more biodiversity areas with around 9,000 ha per year with the Hay Farming measure in the ÖPUL.

“With our daily work, we make a significant contribution to achieving the climate targets,” claimsNeuhofer. The reason is that the permanent grassland of the hay milk farmers is very species-rich and the soils have a high humus content, which binds a lot of carbon.

In a current study by the Centre for Global Change and Sustainability at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, the researchers came to the conclusion that meadows and pastures store 196 tons of carbon per hectare in deeper soil layers. Permanent grassland therefore stores a similar amount of carbon as the forest floor.

“Cheese made from hay milk is full of flavours which also protect the climate” is the message of the ARGE Heumilch spring campaign to draw attention to its climate-friendly production methods and hay milk cheese specialties throughout Austria.

“The Austrian hay industry has a history, which goes back many generations. But it also has answers to many questions about the future. Consumers appreciate that,” claims ARGE Heumilch’s managing director Christiane Mösl.

More than 60% of hay milk in Germany is marketed as hay milk cheese. “Hay milk is the only Austrian type of milk that is advertised in the German market to this extent. We see a great deal of interest in our way of doing business and our products. We are pursuing this path with full vigour, and in 2023 we will be using an extensive campaign to draw attention to the strengths of the hay industry in Germany,” Mösl says.

Activities on the German market are supported by an EU sales promotion project for sustainable products.

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