30 Mar | The Agriculture of the Future! – How Digitalisation Provides Answers for Farmers and the Environment

Interview with Katharina Au, expert for Digital Solutions & Strategy at Bayer Crop Science, Germany.

Katharina Au, expert for Digital Solutions & Strategy at Bayer Crop Science, Germany.

Agriculture is under public pressure and at the same time facing major challenges. It is all about using existing scarce resources such as soil and water responsibly with a view to the future. It is important to maintain the biological balance through the careful handling of nature. At the same time, in view of the increasing extreme weather conditions with drought and storms as well as heavy rainfall, answers must be found. The key questions are: What will agriculture look like in the future? Can digitalisation contribute to this? What answers are there for farmers and the environment? The editorial team of the Bremen Cotton Report discussed the topic with Katharina Au, expert for Digital Solutions & Strategy at Bayer Crop Science, Germany.

Cotton Report: As a result of the well-known challenges, what are the major fields of action for the agriculture of the future?

Katharina Au: Consumers and politicians, as well as those involved in agriculture are currently intensively discussing the need for further development of agriculture with a new focus. In our view, the fields of action lie in the area of the ‘magic triangle’ of ecological, social and economic sustainability. The aim is to keep the three core elements of the triangle in balance, taking regional conditions into account. For the farmers themselves, we should not neglect the clarification of questions about the economic viability of future strategies.

Digital farmland map

What are the benefits of digitalisation for farmers and agriculture?

In my opinion, digitalisation can help make modern agriculture more productive in the long term. Specifically, digital tools can help us optimise water and energy use, protect the soil better and use inputs even more purposefully and precisely.

How is this achieved?

Firstly, digitalisation can help to make knowledge about the areas and the cultivated crops widely available. Information about the growth of crops, the need for fertilisation and the status of plant health can easily be provided via digital technologies. This simplifies risk management. In addition, digitalisation helps us to optimise the use of inputs on a site-specific basis and to work very precisely. This enables a business to manage its land productively. At the same time, a contribution can be made to reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture with fewer CO2 emissions, while the balance between productive management and biodiversity can also be improved.

What role do technologies such as robots and drones play in the context of digitalisation?

There are a great number of projects that deal with robots in agriculture. And there are certainly many different fields of application, for example as an addition to chemical crop protection in weed control, or as a harvesting aid for numerous crops. All of these projects are heading in the direction of single plant processing – this is also a path towards precision, which I have already described before. I personally do not necessarily believe that in the near future we will only see swarms of robots in the fields. However, concrete individual applications can certainly be implemented with them.

There is also a variety of possible uses for drones. On the one hand, they are used in addition to satellite images to generate image recordings for status analysis and thus obtain a higher level of detail that satellite images cannot provide. In Asia, drones are already being used very intensively to deploy inputs. There are also a number of development projects in Europe that focus primarily on very special applications, such as the treatment of steep slopes in vineyards.

Drone over wheat field

In which way is digitalisation driving the business models at Bayer? How will cooperation with local farmers develop?

In addition to the seed cultivation and crop protection divisions, we consider digitalisation to be the third important pillar within Bayer’s corporate strategy.

I am convinced that digitalisation can help us offer even better solutions to our customers’ challenges – and at the same time also set new market standards through innovation. In the long term, we are also working on result-oriented business models in which we do not create value through the volume of equipment sold, but through the result achieved on the hectare. But there is still a long way to go.

What is behind the term ‘Climate FieldViewTM’?

Climate FieldViewTM is our entry into digital agriculture. It is a platform that simply combines all the data from the day-to-day work on a farm and thus provides a place to gain an even better understanding and insight into every single hectare using simple navigation and map visualisations. This enables better agronomic decisions to be made, with the aim of maximising yield and minimising risks.

Farmer with laptop in canola field

What type of information does the system provide?

On the one hand, information about the inventory development in the season is made available with the help of satellite images. In addition, a company has the option of importing soil maps or historical harvest data. However, with the help of the FieldView Drive, all measures and the crop are recorded, above all independently of the machine type, and processed in the Climate FieldView platform. A company can easily compare and analyse a wide range of information. Based on this, we are currently developing modules in which we support specific decisions with location-specific recommendations. For example, we can already offer location-specific variable sowing cards for grain maize. But that’s not all. We are also working on optimising the use of fertilisers and crop protection.

Can the new technologies also be used by smaller businesses, for example in developing countries?

I believe that technological advances can and will bring huge progress, especially in developing countries. Here, we are certainly talking about different applications than in highly developed countries in Europe or markets based on large enterprises such as Brazil and Ukraine.

Here, too, the focus in developing countries is on providing information that might not be available without digital technologies – even a good weather report and forecasts of disease and pest pressure or help in identifying problems can be of great help. Again, it is always about better risk management and securing and increasing productivity.

How long will it take for digitalisation to take hold in agriculture?

Agriculture needs innovation. The challenges of the future cannot be overcome using yesterday’s methods. Investment in research and development is more important today than ever before in order to run agriculture even more efficiently and at the same time more sustainably. Digital solutions for crop protection, in connection with the new generation of modern breeding methods, will undoubtedly play an important role in agricultural processes in the future. They provide support to farmers regardless of the size of their farm. Digitalisation is a big and wide-ranging term. It is not the case that digitalisation has not yet arrived at all in agriculture. But I am also certain that we can make further huge advances in agriculture using a wide variety of digital technologies. However, I am also convinced that digitalisation is not a panacea – in the end, agriculture is a total system in interaction with nature and all the pieces of the puzzle must fit together to achieve the optimum.

Thank you for the interview!

The interviews in the column “Question Time“ embody the opinion of the respective interview partner and do not represent the position of the Bremen Cotton Exchange as neutral, independent institution.

Category: Allgemein, Interviews





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