2019 Conference and Study Tour “Digital Tools for Organic and Small-Scale Farming” in Germany
by Paul Miehe
Between June 30 and July 5, the Sino-German Agricultural Centre (DCZ) Science & Technology (S&T) platform in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) in Potsdam organised a conference and excursion in Germany for a delegation of 13 researchers from CAAS institutes and other Chinese agricultural research institutions. The event was designed to explore opportunities and challenges of digitisation for small-scale and organic farming. It brought together an interdisciplinary group of Chinese and German researchers specialised in fields such as remote sensing, precision farming, soil science, plant protection, organic farming and agricultural economics.
On July 1 and 2, the conference, which was organised in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Cornelia Weltzien (Vice Scientific Director at ATB and Head of Dept. Engineering for Crop Production) and her team from ATB, explored recent developments in digital farming and data acquisition, approaches for water and soil management and precision plant protection, as well as recent advances in organic and small-scale farming. The experts from China had the opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts on new developments with researchers from ATB, the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (HNEE) and the Wageningen University & Research (WUR).
In a break between the presentations the participants visited the labs of ATB in Potsdam-Bornim. Here, the conference group could learn about the short rotation coppice plantation of ATB, the lactic acid production facility where lactic acid is produced from different vegetable raw or waste materials, for instance straw and grain. Lactic acid is a basic chemical for bioplastics.
In the afternoon of the second day, researchers of ATB presented their projects on-site at ATB’s field lab for digital agriculture in Potsdam-Marquardt. Here, the participants saw innovative tools, for instance highly modern soil measurement devices, autonomous robotic machines that will be working in orchard applications, measurement devices for crop monitoring and an introduction to drone applications.
In the concluding session Prof. Dr. Weltzien identified common interests in image analysis for disease detection. She also remarked that there is a great potential for applying digital tools and robots for organic farming systems. Prof. Wu Wenbin from the Key Laboratory for Smart Agriculture of CAAS emphasized that the Chinese guests learnt very much, especially in the field of data acquisition, and expressed the desire to continue the dialogue in the next year.
After the conference, the Chinese experts had the opportunity to visit Potsdam and Sanssouci.
On July 3, the Chinese delegation visited the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) at Müncheberg. The Scientific Director Prof. Dr. Katharina Helming, head of the Research Group Landscape Research Synthesis, introduced to the institute’s ongoing projects such as the ‘Digital Agricultural Knowledge and Information System’ (DAKIS) which started just a few weeks ago. In the DAKIS project spatially and functionally diversified agricultural systems of the future are to be explored. Dr. Carsten Hoffmann introduced to the BonaRes project, a long-term experiment investigating sustainable subsoil management. After the introduction the group had the opportunity to visit the long-term field experiment V 140, an experiment that has been running continuously on-site at ZALF since the year 1963. The V 140 experiment is one of a few of this type on sandy soil. Here, different ratios of mineral and organic fertilizers are applied to the field. After having a close look at the V140 field, the participants could observe a drone flight over the V140 fields.
In the afternoon of July 3, the delegation visited the eco-village Brodowin in northern Brandenburg close to the Polish border. Franziska Rutscher from the Brodowin cooperative showed the facilities of the Demeter certified farm including cattle barn and a modern dairy facility and explained the philosophy of biodynamic farming which was proposed for the first time by Rudolf Steiner. After the guided tour on the Demeter farm, the Chinese experts enjoyed the local and freshly produced organic milk and delicious cake.
On July 4, the delegation was among the more than 11,000 visitors of the 2nd Organic Field Days at the Staatsdomäne Frankenhausen (Hessian State Domain) near Kassel, which is the research and experimental farm of the University of Kassel. This biannual event, jointly organised by the Hessian Ministry of Agriculture, the University of Kassel and the Foundation for Ecology & Farming (SÖL) provided the unique opportunity to learn about practice and research in organic agriculture and livestock husbandry. Among other topics the group observed robots for weeding and soil cultivation, saw long-term experimental fields of the farm and exchanged views with scientists of the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) on options for biological pest control.
Professor Dr. Trautz from the University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück and Dr. Insa Kühling from the Institute for Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg accompanied the group and provided an overview of their research on “Precision Farming in Organic Agriculture and Technology Transfer into Conventional Agriculture”. At the booth of the University of Kassel the Chinese visitors also learned that the university’s department for organic agriculture has about 20 professors and more than 1,000 students.
On July 5, the Chinese group headed to Frankfurt on the Main and concluded the Study Tour on “Digital Tools for Organic and Small-Scale Farming” with a visit to the city centre.