As published in Landbou Weekblad Jan 2014
We are at odds with nature, excessive use of fossil fuels and western consumption levels makes it impossible for the rest of the world to follow pursuit and copy western lifestyle, especially if our resources are to be protected. And our resources are in dire need of protection. We cannot avoid protecting these more aggressively, which directly means either less consumption or leapfrog steps in innovation. I believe in innovation, but see it coming from unexpected angles.
Current conventional farming practices heavily rely on chemical product input, most of which are petrochemical based. Much research in the last decades and even more so in recent years has shown that these synthetic chemicals have a negative effect on soil health, livestock, human health and the environment. Conventional farming, not a likely solution enabled enough to deliver required increases in production to feed us by 2050, also has a huge impact on our carbon footprint.
We cannot lose time as we need solutions to our greenhouse gas emissions, disproportionate use of fertilizers, herbicides and weedicides, our growing middle class that demands more meat and all that, while our world populations is growing from 7bn to 9bn people in the next 30 years. This alone will require an agricultural output double our current production! And to make things worse, the majority of the world’s population is in oblivion of the problems and challenges we are faced with; especially in agriculture.
Further compounding the challenge, is Climate Change itself for agriculture. An increase in temperatures sees us with the problem of plants ripening faster, while seeds are not able to keep up with that accelerated growth, resulting in a reduction in yield. The Centre for Global Development quotes William Cline, in saying that this could result in a decline in yield of 10-15 percent by 2080, even with carbon fertilization (more carbon in the atmosphere increases plant growth). That is a long shot from a required doubling up of production to feed 9bn global citizens, with a strong growing middle class demanding more meat. But agriculture is also to blame, as a big culprit that creates 14-30% of a country’s carbon footprint.
Not all is bad, as we see farming practices on a strong move toward conservation agriculture and we need to continue driving this trend towards agro-ecology. Nature, within its own capacity and through healthy life cycles, from within healthy ecosystems, has an abundance of natural biochemicals that help each species within that environment to live, thrive, reproduce and survive. It has done so for over millennia. These biochemicals are intrinsically in tune with the surrounding environment, soil, climatic conditions and other living organisms; agro-ecology makes use of that.
This technology and that of high tech hardware, have the ability to drive the necessary innovation in agriculture and to keep it on its path of continued production increase. I’m Wolfgang von Loeper and new to this column and have the honour to write about innovation and technology that can drive productivity. Most things in life are three-fold, Rudolph Steiner also saw the world governed by that rule, but, for me, and in the case of innovation and technology in agriculture, I see it being two-fold: First innovation from high tech and hardware and second innovation in physical farming practices and methods that can drive a sustainable intensification. In the next couple of months I’d like to take you through the notion of what innovation from these two angles can bring to the table for farmers.
Wolfgang J. von Loeper