European ag journalists cross borders and build bridges

By Katharina Seuser, Germany

Forty agricultural journalists from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany met in the small German mountain town of Monschau in August to build stronger links between the three countries.

The three-day gathering was hosted by the German guild, VDAJ. Our main focus was to get in contact with colleagues who live next door to us and who face the same agricultural topics in different media.

1.Dutch, Belgian and German ag journalists honoured Friederike Krick, winner of the IFAJ Star Prize of Agricultural Journalism in Monschau. Connie Siemes handed over the big Texan wooden tablet, which was shipped to Europe in time.

2.The group at work on visits to local dairy farmers.

3. Monschau – a beautiful town near where the borders of Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands meet, and where journalists from the three countries met to build bridges.

The programme was about dairy farming in mountain regions. Norbert Schneider from the cooperative dairy company MUH (Milchunion Hocheifel) explained the strategy of the company and how it faces the future.

It was interesting to learn how a regional cooperative can grow with only a small range of products, and specialising in a low-priced product like long-life milk. Without expanding production (within the past decade MUH has almost doubled their milk production to more than one billion litres a year) and developing international trade the company would not have been so successful.

Highlights of the meeting were visits to two dairy farms. One farmer, Markus Legge, explained how milking robots can be transferred to remote grazing areas. Together with a colleague he installed a Lely robot into a container, which can be transported from his farm to his grazing grounds. Milking cows on pasture saves him costs in making silage and feeding out concentrates.

The other farmer couple, Iris and Elmar Victor, presented their guest house program. With milk prices almost 40 percent less than last year, the family earns more money with guests than with their cows.

The journalists also visited Burg Vogelsang, which was built in 1934 as a training facility for the Nazi elite. After World War II, it was placed under Belgian command and used by NATO forces. In 2005 Burg Vogelsang was given back to Germany, and the doors were opened to the public the following year. The old building should remind serve as a reminder of the terrible Nazi regime. For the German journalists, it was good to be there with our neighbours and to feel their friendship today. 

On Saturday we visited the Belgian broadcasting station BFR in Eupen, Belgium. This region is the home of a German minority and BFR broadcasts a German programme. Renate Ducomble explained the history of BFR and the challenges it faces today. We learned that even today deep problems between different sections of population exist in Belgium. Taking this into account, the efforts of the Belgium government to support a German minority in the border region are remarkable. 

Our common history in Europe shows that crossing borders, getting in contact and making friendships are the only ways to overcome conflicts. Journalists are networkers and therefore ambassadors for a better understanding – in a professional and a cultural sense. That will be our aim when we start to plan our next ‘cross border’ meeting.

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