Missing Link: High Tech, Low Life – the future of agriculture 3


In the climate discussion in particular, a narrative has prevailed that portrays consumers and farmers as opponents. This is all the more unpleasant as this story is absurd. Consumers and farmers are absolutely dependent on each other. No food production without farmers. Without consumers, only self-sufficiency, so no specialized business.

After examining the situation and potential of organic farming and permaculture in the two previous articles, we now have to return to the bottom of the facts: The conventional farmer provides by far the largest part of the diet. Although studies believe that up to 60 percent organic content is possible without having to starve, the rates of organic cultivation that can actually be achieved are more like half of this value or less.

How can a world population of up to 10 billion people eat sustainably? Global agriculture is looking for solutions that go beyond “organic” management and the use of IT in “smart farming”.

But proven methods for CO2-Reduction from organic cultivation is gaining a foothold in conventional cultivation. The keyword here is “hybrid cultivation”. An example of such a farm can be found in the “Farmer of the Year 2020” (Ceres Award, Agriculture category) Stefan Leichenauer. He uses a lot of organic fertilizer (for example compost) to reduce the need for mineral fertilizers. He uses mechanical weed control to save herbicides and to protect species. He relies on an ingenious eight-part crop rotation with a lot of legumes – fodder for his “bemoaned workers”, the earthworms.

Leichenauer prefers to sell regionally, with direct partners such as bakeries for its wheat. For the consumer-grower relationship, he peppered his areas with explanatory signs and documented his work on his smartphone. Many arable farmers are currently moving in this direction – especially on more difficult soils (e.g. also uf dr Alb) in order to be able to continue to operate at their locations when temperatures rise and to reduce the global warming share of agriculture.

These changes are also necessary because the legal situation has changed. Up until now there was a plant destroyer with glyphosate, with which farmers did little tillage, resulting in less CO2-Release led (see Toward Specialized or Integrated Systems in Northwest Europe: On-Farm Eco-Efficiency of Dairy Farming in Germany). However, due to health concerns for humans, animals and the ecosystem, the total herbicide will probably soon no longer be approved for us. In the dispute over the remedy, the environmental associations complain that its selective advantages do not save the overall ecological balance.

The main difficulty with proposals to completely replace conventional agriculture is that it has been very good at feeding us all – so well, in fact, that we could become so many people while at the same time proportionally fewer of us go hungry. So when agricultural technology is criticized, the critic should always ask himself a question: “What is better?” Because there is seldom a lack of alternatives, but in the end most of them are not that clearly better than previously thought.

The signs are that we will continue to produce high-tech and highly automated food in the future. The UN is hoping for more new breeds (including genetically engineered ones) rather than fewer. The hybrid varieties that emerged in the 1950s (such as Mulis, only for plants) opened up completely new areas for arable farming. They have become an indispensable part of agriculture to this day. The way back to before would often mean going back to lower yields.

Modern agriculture is a high-tech process with a lot of data analysis. Automatically driving agricultural machines know from highly precise GPS data where and how much they have fertilized and harvested in order to automatically adjust the measures from year to year. Dairy cows go to the milking station on their own to relieve themselves of the udder pressure and to receive a reward. Robots moving in the stable do a lot of things that agricultural workers used to do – only that they feed data into the system that the dairy farmer analyzes. Data analyzes should identify problems at an early stage, for example the “Sound Hooves” project at the University of Kassel, which recognizes lame cattle by their gait sound. The romantic notion that being a farmer means driving a tractor through mud to be a little beautiful has as much to do with today’s agriculture as a rocket painted by a three-year-old has to do with the Ariane 6 project.