What are peasant problems and their solution

Organic farmers and conventional farmers share problems and solutions

The overlap between conventional and organic farmers is growing. This is due to the increasing importance of "low-risk technologies" in crop production. Digitization continues to drive convergence.

Organic farming and conventional agriculture are developing increasing overlaps not only in terms of research and development costs and the backlog of registrations, but also in terms of new plant varieties, technical developments and pesticides. This was shown by a perspective forum of the German Farmers' Association (DBV) at the Biofach in Nuremberg. Due to the restrictions placed on it, organic farming is already in a position to offer the conventional branch "low-risk technologies", explained DBV eco-consultant Dr. Heinrich Graf von Bassewitz at the event. The potential of these solutions for both branches will grow significantly through digitization and the hoped-for increase in government research.

Dispute between organic and conventional farmers hardly ever to be found in practice

The president of the farmers and winegrowers' association Rhineland-Palatinate South (BWV), Eberhard Hartelt, attested that organic producers “have more progressive answers than conventional farming” in some questions. He advised both sides to "leave the trenches and approach each other". In any case, disputes were mainly played out at the level of the functionaries and were rarely encountered in practice. The development projects presented in the Perspektivenforum dealt with crop cultivation, the automation of agricultural practice and research on ecological pesticides. The latter can now hardly be financed for medium-sized companies, reported Martin Lohmann from Neudorff GmbH. He called for this branch of research to be relieved by a lower requirement profile. Hope for financial support emanates from the large chemical companies, which are now increasingly investing in biological crop protection.

Look at new open-pollinated varieties

Dr. Monika Messmer from the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL) pointed out at the forum that one of the sticking points in the approval of organic seeds lies in optimizing the test for genetic homogeneity. The auditors would now have to be calibrated more closely to new open-pollinated varieties that hardly exist outside of organic farming. Rainer Carstens from the Westhof Bio group reported on the work on a weeding robot that is being tested on his farm. Based on his experience with several automation solutions, he advised other farmers to take the step of digitization. A loss of workers is not to be feared, it is only shifting the fields of activity.

Mixed cultures for new cultivation systems

According to FiBL scientist Messmer, increasingly fluctuating weather conditions make research on robust varieties attractive for both types of cultivation. She sees a lot of overlap in the advantages of using mixed cultures in particular. Messmer presented the “EU Remix” project, which will run until 2021, in the forum. Here one works on the breeding of different varieties for mixed culture suitability. For example, the cultivation of barley can be combined with peas, or legumes can be combined with grain. So far, however, only a few such crops are available due to the different flowering and harvesting times. FiBL now wants to help with breeding. Especially in connection with the new developments in the areas of sensor and robot technology, they are working on completely new cultivation systems within the framework of organic breeding, says Messmer. This leads to "greater agrobiodiversity on the landscape and farm level up to more complex agroforestry systems".

A lack of staff forces automation

According to Carstens, the automation solutions that are used on the Westhof Bio farm or are still being developed outside of organic farming also have the potential to optimize efficiency. The technology of the autonomous weeding machine also has good prospects in conventional agriculture, especially when you consider that more and more active ingredients for crop protection are being omitted. The farmer expressed his hope that both forms of cultivation would increasingly converge in terms of cultivation methods. In the meantime, due to the labor shortage, he can no longer avoid automation in his own company. As further digital solutions in his company, Carstens named an optical carrot sorting system and a packing robot for automatic palletizing. The sowing of spinach has been GPS-controlled for ten years. In the greenhouse, a climate computer regulates the temperature and the water supply depending on the incidence of light, even if human readjustment is still necessary here. According to the farmer, electricity and heat are produced in their own biogas plant, and the CO2 produced there is also fed into the greenhouses.

Aim to do without copper in crop protection

Lohmann was convinced that copper-reduced pesticides - such as those manufactured by Neudorff GmbH - will be in greater demand in the future. But research into environmentally friendly means could take up to ten years and cost several million euros. The high expenditure of time causes delays in entering the market, whereby the cost pressure for companies due to the EU registration continues to increase. Nevertheless, Neuendorff is pressing ahead with research in order to achieve the industry goal of doing without copper in crop protection in the future. Lohmann emphasized that a soap was recently presented that could be used as a fungicide in organic farming. But this development is still ongoing. Often the areas of application of the developed products are so specific that the high development costs are not profitable. The company representative made it clear that medium-sized companies only have a chance with political support. Organic farming research therefore needs a “fast lane for green”, especially when it comes to approval and funding.