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Agriculture and climate change are closely interlinked. Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases (10% of total emissions from human activities), but at the same time it holds a great potential to sequester and store carbon in plants, trees and soils. There are many farms and projects addressing the optimisation of carbon balance in European agriculture and contributing therefore to the EU’s Green Deal objectives, aiming at climate neutrality by 2050.
We talked to Estonian farmer Ando Eelmaa from Korjuse-Vanapere - ‘Kloostrimetsa’ farm situated in the north-west of the country. He has set up a long-term farming system with a minimal carbon footprint and which at the same time has brought about many other benefits for the farm.
Tell us about your farm and your products
“Kloostrimetsa farm has been in my family more than 300 years, I am the 9th generation cultivating on the same land. We have approximately 1600 ha in total; over half is forest land, we also have arable land, grassland, marshes and waterways. 60 ha is a Natura 2000 area.
Our 100 Galloway and Hereford beef cattle graze on permanent grasslands, we grow apples, pears and berry crops in our orchard (around 10 ha), we have a small plant nursery and we collect other products from the forest and natural areas. In recent years, we have also increased our own processing; the former 80-year-old stable has been renovated into a cider house. We produce cider and cider vinegar, in addition to jams and syrups. All our agricultural activities are organic and all our processing is also certified as organic, we have developed our brand name ‘Kloostrimetsa’.
We sell 4,000 m3 of wood annually to industry. In addition, we utilise wood waste for bioenergy production as much as it is economically feasible and environmentally tolerable.
The entire property has the Wildlife Estates label (since 2013, environmental labelling) and we take part in networking activities organised by this label.”
Please describe your sustainable management practices
“Sustainability has been a focus all along. Since the farm business is based on the continuity of generations, the basic knowledge of sustainability, resource depletion, etc., is in the genes. Of course, new knowledge and technologies are constantly created and we must keep an eye on that and integrate where possible. The goal of carbon neutrality is also based on consistency. The aim is to pass on the land in a better condition than it was before.
We have diversified our activities and we try to keep them all as optimal as possible. We control production inputs, try to reuse as much as possible and we minimise waste. For example, we ask our customers to bring back the glass bottles and jars we use for our products and we use them again. We sort our waste as efficiently as possible; bio-waste goes to animal feed or compost and anything that can be reused is recycled.
Our farming is organic and we practice organically certified harvesting from non-cultivated areas. We pick wild berries, medicinal plants and tree sap (birch and maple). We have semi-natural areas and wooded meadows which we maintain only for the purpose of nature conservation.
In terms of livestock production, our animals graze all year round, they are not fattened. During the winter season, we feed them our own hay and silage.
Most of the electricity used on the farm is self-produced solar energy, surplus is sold to the grid. This was implemented as we wanted to make the best out of the less fertile land.”
What challenges have you come across?
“The problem is common, as many rural entrepreneurs would agree, the price paid for our products does not reflect the value of our way of farming. However, working on your own land, gives freedom and motivation to make an effort in each day. The challenges are interesting and they force you to look for solutions. Working with nature is different every time.”
What advice could you give to other farmers?
“Reducing your footprint is not just a way to feel better, in addition it is also clear that activities aimed at energy efficiency and better use of resources are cost-effective. For example, the solar power plants we built provide us with a substantial income and are certainly a commercially viable investment. Another example would be the sorting and recycling of waste – this has a clear economic impact. The rich are not those who earn much, but those who spend little.”
Ando Eelmaa firstname.lastname@example.org