Precision FarmingFrom farmer to climate manager

In his guest article, Mark­wart von Pentz, pres­i­dent of John Deere’s agri­cul­tural machinery divi­sion, outlines the biggest chal­lenges facing agri­cul­ture and shares his outlook on how to over­come them.

Agri­cul­ture has been feeding the popu­la­tion since time immemo­rial. But never before has the way farmers produce food been ques­tioned as much as it is now. In socio-polit­ical terms, agri­cul­ture has to over­come several chal­lenges at the same time:

  • Farmers are strug­gling with a loss of consumer confi­dence. These reser­va­tions some­times even culmi­nate in the bashing and deni­gra­tion of farmers and their fami­lies.
  • The EU Green Deal brings signif­i­cant restric­tions to the current way of doing busi­ness. As a result, the exis­tence of many farms is under threat.
  • The world’s popu­la­tion is growing rapidly and eating habits are changing – in the future, the agri­cul­tural industry will have to feed up to 10 billion people.
  • Agri­cul­ture is in the middle of a great climate dilemma: On the one hand, it emits green­house gases; on the other, it is highly affected by climate change.

It’s quite clear that there is a tension between customer demands, envi­ron­mental respon­si­bility, and economic effi­ciency. Agri­cul­ture is too often portrayed as the cause of prob­lems and too seldom are its problem-solving aspects brought to the fore.

Effi­cient produc­tion is key

In order to meet all the objec­tives, agri­cul­ture must, in the future, produce more food, even more sustain­ably. Yield and economic effi­ciency must not be neglected. Only in this way can the world’s growing popu­la­tion be adequately fed. At the same time, we should work to prevent Europe from becoming increas­ingly depen­dent on food imports.

It must there­fore be possible to achieve the same or even higher yield with less fertiliser, crop protec­tion and fuel.

It is a little-known fact that Germany for example is a net importer of grain. And there­fore, we have no influ­ence on the envi­ron­mental conse­quences of imported grain’s produc­tion in other regions of the world. This trend has been going on for years. The more restric­tions we impose on agri­cul­ture in Europe, the higher our imports will be and the larger – in global terms – the carbon foot­print will be. It must there­fore be possible to achieve the same or even higher yield with less fertiliser, crop protec­tion and fuel. A complex task for which being a green-thumbed farmer alone is no longer suffi­cient.

Farmers are increas­ingly becoming opti­misers – bits and bytes are their most impor­tant helpers. Farmers must skil­fully bring together weather data, soil maps, nutrient values, histor­ical data and much more in order to make agro­nomic deci­sions. To do this, we need cloud-based solu­tions like the John Deere Oper­a­tions Centre. Because in the cloud, farmers can retrieve and work with all their data – at any place and at any time.

More trans­parency builds more trust

However, digi­tal­i­sa­tion will not only make farming more ecolog­i­cally and econom­i­cally sustain­able. This way, farmers can also increase trans­parency by docu­menting their arable farming activ­i­ties and providing them to the consumer. This evidence can help regain consumer confi­dence. Addi­tional envi­ron­mental services can also be docu­mented in this way, eg what the company is doing to protect the climate. This could lead to the emer­gence of an inter­esting new busi­ness sector, which is currently the subject of intense discus­sion: What if farmers were to become climate managers, seques­tering CO2 from the atmos­phere into the soil?

Farmers can increase trans­parency by docu­menting their arable farming activ­i­ties and providing them to the consumer.

Agri­cul­ture in Germany sequesters about 95m tonnes of CO2 every growing season. This corre­sponds to the CO2 emis­sions of about 8.4m people. However, this amount is promptly returned to the atmos­phere through the feeding of cereals, grass, and other crops. Experts see the poten­tial to bind an addi­tional 20m tonnes of CO2 through agri­cul­ture with increased yields and low losses.
This effect would be inter­esting if it were possible to store carbon in the long term in the form of perma­nent humus in the soil or, for example, insu­la­tion mate­rials in house or car construc­tion.

This could develop into an inter­esting busi­ness model for agri­cul­ture. Inten­sive research is currently being carried out into which arable farming measures could increase the humus content in the medium and long term. The appro­priate frame­work condi­tions and finan­cial incen­tives have yet to be created for the alter­na­tive use of straw, short-rota­tion wood and other fibre crops.

Industry 4.0 in the field

As you can see, agri­cul­ture is going to change massively in the next few years, and so will we. As a Smart Indus­trial Company, we support farmers as a solu­tion provider to drive change forward and estab­lish industry 4.0 in the field. Internal and external networking ensures more effi­cient processes and reduced use of oper­ating resources. Agri­cul­ture is not much different from outdoor indus­trial produc­tion. It just has many more vari­ables (weather, soil influ­ences, etc) and a large ecolog­ical foot­print.

It has always been impor­tant for producers to farm sustain­ably in order to preserve their own liveli­hoods. The agri­cul­tural machinery industry can and will support them in this.