Sustainable plant production in agriculture

Teaser_Plant breeding: a key technology in the bioeconomy

Many people nowadays want the healthiest possible food to be produced in a way that protects the environment and nature. There is growing criticism in particular of the use of synthetic chemical pesticides because they leave residues in our food and nature and pose a risk to biodiversity. This is leading to ever great acceptance among the population of organic farming. However, as things currently stand it will be quite a challenge to switch agriculture for the most part or indeed entirely to organic methods. After all, we still need to supply the global population with sufficient foods, not to mention the energy and substances needed for a functioning bioeconomy.

Alternative plant production systems for every budget

If farmers use the very latest automated and digitally-interconnected technologies and follow biological principles, doing entirely without synthetic chemical pesticides, this can be part of the solution. At the same time, soil fertility must be maintained while achieving (the required) high biomass yields with high-quality products. This also entails the environmentally-compatible use of mineral fertilisers. Such farming methods that use mineral fertilisers but no synthetic chemical pesticides (Agriculture 4.0 without synthetic chemical pesticides, known as NOcsPS in German) involve a fundamental transformation of agricultural food production. This raises entirely new agronomic, economic, ecological and indeed social questions that will require careful and comprehensive accompanying research. Resulting products could find themselves priced in a category between conventionally- and organically-produced products. NOcsPS systems also reflect the goal of many national and state governments to transition to an agricultural strategy that entails effective reduction of synthetic chemical pesticides, increased biodiversity and better protection of insects.

New research project for a more sustainable bioeconomy

Under the umbrella of the BMBF-funded research programme “Agricultural Systems of the Future”, the universities of Hohenheim and Göttingen, together with the Julius Kühn Institute, are working to develop and analyse NOcsPS systems and compare these with other farming methods. This comparison is undertaken in a whole series of trials on the parcel, field, operational and agricultural levels, and from ecological, economic and social perspectives. The research consortium is being supported by many companies involved in production, processing and consulting, meaning that NOcsPS agricultural systems can be developed on the basis of interrelated innovative agronomic and technological aspects, e.g. sensor technology and robotics. The result is innovative farming systems that can effectively complement conventional and organic agriculture, achieving good yields and product quality together with positive ecological impact. This could end the polarisation of markets between conventional and organic farming. In other words, NOcsPS not only constitutes a new approach to agriculture in its own right; it also creates an opportunity to encourage organic farmers to embrace alternative fertiliser strategies and growing measures and to inspire conventional farmers to reduce their use of synthetic chemical pesticides and optimise their fertilisation. The diversity of these agricultural systems, and their use to complement existing methods, can potentially increase the sustainability of bioeconomic value chains. This is because fewer harmful chemicals are released into the environment and biodiversity can be increased, while at the same time achieving high natural yields.