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.