Andreas Frangenberg Andreas Frangenberg

Andreas Frangenberg is Technical Director of EISA, the European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture, and freelance journalist and editor. His main fields of interest relate to sustainable development in agriculture, Integrated Farming and the role of innovation in modern agriculture. He is based in Erkelenz, Germany.
    There are numerous challenges which today’s agriculture has to cope with: Besides producing enough food, feed and fibre for a still growing world population, there is a clear need to protect the environment in general and the precious natural resources such as soil, water, and biodiversity in particular.

    Land for agricultural production is limited, as is the availability of water in many regions of the world. Furthermore, also energy and in part nutrients are scarce resources. This leads to an obvious conclusion: We must increase our resource use efficiency, and obtain more output from less input with less environmental impact.

    Figure 1: The EISA Integrated Farming Wheel – guideline to sustainable agriculture in practice

    Big enough toolbox with the right tools

    Within the holistic approach of Integrated Farming, acting according to a given site and situation is one prerequisite to be productive and environmentally considerate at the same time. To be able to achieve sustainability targets, farmers need a variety of “tools” today, i.e. strategies and measures to choose from. The EISA Integrated Farming Wheel (see fig. 1) shows in which major segments such “tools” are needed. Many of these sectors are closely interlinked, meaning that changes in one sector may well affect others. This in turn requires a thorough planning approach, where all measures are well planned and then results evaluated afterwards.

    This is where modern information technologies, GPS, and ISOBUS-compatible implements come into play, to mention a few, which can be seen and used as elements of precision agriculture. Yield mapping, application charts, automatic guidance systems – there is a wide range of technologies and devices which are increasingly taken up by farmers.

    Auto-steering as one example

    When a tractor is used for tillage operations for example, drivers either tend to make unnecessary overlaps, hence causing additional fuel consumption on a given field, or to leave spots or strips untilled with the risk of a subsequent increase in weed pressure for example. Automatic guidance and steering systems literally reduce those risks to almost nil. Modern navigational systems in cars offer an accuracy of roughly one to two meters – whereas the best systems on the agricultural market offer a repeated accuracy of 2.5 cm, pass after pass and year after year. This allows for lower fuel consumption, more accurate spreading of fertilisers, more targeted application of plant protection products and better soil protection for instance.

    Implementation of these technologies on individual farms is a matter of farm size, cost, education of the farmer and other factors – but the trend towards the uptake of precision agriculture instruments is gathering pace. N-sensors or telematics to communicate and exchange data between farm office and machinery in the field are further examples which are increasingly used on modern farms, helping to make production even more efficient and environmentally responsible – and so all in all more sustainable.