Lungau, Austria. Pine forest carpets the alpine foothills. It looks natural, a typical scene from a tourist brochure – but it was not always so. This landscape used to support diverse flora and fauna until the pine trees were planted making the soil acidic, and acidic soil is completely unsuited to agricultural use. Farmer Sepp Holzer has made a name for himself by successfully challenging this damaging practice. Out of this sterile monoculture he has created a fertile and productive farm – the Kramaterhof.
He grows cereals, fruit, and vegetables; he even farms fish. How? By combining ecologically sound permaculture with the traditional techniques of terracing and raised beds. The land has not always been forested. It was government policy to plant pine trees. Sepp calls this kind of monoculture “pine deserts”. He knows too well the problems that it can bring.
“A pine tree has flat roots that leave the forest vulnerable. Pine trees make the soil acidic, the soil dies, and its capacity to retain water is diminished. The trees lose their vitality and become diseased.”