Digital Farming in Agrotech Valley
“Digital farming in Agrotech Valley – Is Agriculture 4.0 the solution to ensuring the world’s food supply?” was the question discussed by a prestigious group at Gestüt Osthoff stud farm in Georgsmarienhütte in early June. Parallel to this, innovative start-ups and agricultural technology manufacturers presented some of the promising results of the cooperation between academic research and agricultural technology which have already been achieved at a “market of opportunities” held in the outdoor area. Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) also showcased a number of exciting projects.
The initiator of the conference and fair was the AgritechNet Nordwest network, which has been active for some two years now. Following welcome speeches by Dr. Michael Lübbersmann, District Chief Executive of the Landkreis Osnabrück administrative district; Harald Emingholz, Deputy Chairman of the Metropolregion Nordwest organisation, and State Secretary Stefan Muhle of the Lower Saxony Ministry for the Economy, Labour, Transport and Digitization, Robert Everwand, the AgritechNet cluster manager, once again presented the diverse network of business, scientific, research and local government bodies to the fully occupied auditorium. One of its stated objectives is not only to establish the name “Agrotech Valley” for the region stretching from the Teutoburger Forest to the North Sea coast but rathermore to create a collaborative basis through the founding of the “Agrotech Valley Forum e. V.” association.
Klaus Töpfer, retired German Minister of the Environment, former director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a founding director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, was a competent speaker at the conference, giving a lecture entitled “Global challenges in modern agriculture”. The IASS aims to encourage dialogue to understand sustainability issues and generate potential solutions in cooperation with partners from the sciences, politics, the economy and civil society.
The facts make it clear – there is no alternative to sustainability
Klaus Töpfer pointed out that the term ‘sustainability’ was born out of necessity. In the early 18th century mines in Saxony were faced with a scarcity of wood. In his 1713 treatise “Sylvicultura oeconomica” head mining administrator Hans Carl von Carlowitz formulated the concept that the number of trees which were felled should not exceed the number which could be grown again through controlled reforestation. Many regions of Germany had had regulations on forestry since the 16th century, which regulated the numbers of trees which could be felled; punished damaging of trees and defined the times during which it was forbidden to allow animals such as goats to graze in forests. In other words, it is the necessity created by current conditions, such as a growing world population, which forces us to take action. In this regard Klaus Töpfer, who is 80 years of age, noted that the global population had trebled during his lifetime. Parallel to this, the amount of land available for agriculture had decreased. His words were almost admonitory – agriculture in Europe and other industrial nations cannot be compared to that of developing countries, which is primarily subsistence-based. In the latter countries, peasant farms with little more than 2 ha of land each dominate. Germany’s agricultural technology should not lose sight of these global facts.
After a short break Prof. Arno Ruckelshausen of Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences chaired a panel comprising among prestigious participants. Dr.-Ing. Josef Horstmann, Managing Director for Construction and Development (Krone); Christian Dreyer, Managing Director of Amazone and chairman of the VDMA Agricultural Machinery association; Prof. Ludwig Theuvsen, Head of the Agriculture, Agricultural Policy and Sustainability department at Lower Saxony's Ministry of Agriculture, and Dr. Michael Lübbersmann, District Chief Executive of the Landkreis administrative district discussed the theses presented by Klaus Töpfer.
Think global, act regional
As a matter of principle all the participants agreed with the theses presented by Klaus Töpfer in his lecture. Josef Horstmann and Christian Dreyer established that there is a clear trend in the agricultural sectors of industrial nations towards decreasing numbers of people engaged in such work and the increasing size of businesses. In some cases this trend is also apparent in so-called threshold nations and will, in the final instance, not pass by developing countries. The agricultural sector of industrial nations is not only a “food supplier” but must also fulfil demands made by civil society such as environmental protection and standards; animal welfare and climate protection. In many parts of the world agriculture is often more heavily influenced by political circumstances and inflexible traditions regarding social issues and farming systems than by climate or soil conditions.
Agricultural technology cannot change any of this. Agriculture 4.0 is not just about agricultural technology, digital data gathering and evaluation. It is based on traditional knowledge and crafts, combined with the opportunities offered by digital technologies. This allows work processes to become more precise, thus saving resources. The agricultural technology developed in the local region is already playing a significant role on world markets.
It was not possible to fully answer the question whether Agriculture 4.0 will be sufficient to meet the challenges of feeding the world and implementing global environmental protection. All of the participants were, however, in agreement that Agriculture 4.0 can make a significant contribution to finding a solution. There was also a consensus that networks which include research and the sciences, manufacturers, practitioners and politicians are required to observe, categorize and draw conclusions from as many different perspectives as possible.