Markus Demmel 2015-02-23 23:31:40
At the Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Animal Husbandry of the Bavarian Research Center for Agriculture, I coordinate the activities in plant production engineering. The aim of our work is to identify the challenges and develop the contributions of agricultural engineering for sustainable plant production in Bavaria and define extension guidelines based on the outcomes of our applied research. A major challenge that Germany, especially Bavaria, is facing today is the impact of climate change, which can already be observed. In our region, climate change means that arable farming will face more and heavier rain and more and longer dry periods, although the average annual precipitation may not change significantly. These changes will require improved soil management, with all operations optimized for the changing requirements. Earlier research has shown that management strategies known for their positive effects on soil, such as mulching or no-till planting, cannot be simply copied to our region from other places in the world. Instead, they have to be adapted to our situation and integrated into our farming systems. For example, about 80% of the arable land in Bavaria is still plowed. The reasons for this are manifold and include agronomic, climatic, and social factors. Strip tillage is an example of a process that has been successfully adapted in Bavaria. During the last few years, agricultural engineers and agronomists have successfully adapted strip tillage to arable systems with large amounts of residues and cover crops, and combined it with the application of liquid manure to avoid ammonia emissions while preserving the soil cover. Further challenges we expect are based on projected resource limitations, especially phosphorus, which is predicted to become depleted within the next 35 years. Since we can’t create more phosphorus, we have to close the nutrient cycle within agricultural enterprises and beyond. Agricultural enterprises export phosphorus and other important nutrients in the form of agricultural products. Recycling these nutrients back to the producer is possible; however, to meet this challenge, our research has to go beyond the borders of agriculture. Civil engineering, environmental engineering, and wastewater engineering will also be involved. In general, to meet the challenges that we face in our attempt to feed the world in 2050, we must not look to a single machine, a single plant, a single nutrient, or a single discipline. We have to look at the production process as a whole, and multiple disciplines will have to cooperate. This cooperation will be the key to solving the problems that agriculture faces in Bavaria and around the world. Specifically, to feed the world in 2050, we need more intensive cooperation both within and among scientific communities. This exchange has to take place horizontally among various organizations and disciplines and vertically among the levels of basic research, applied research, and practice. In both cases, we have to overcome long-standing traditions and resistances. Because we all compete for funding, the organizations that provide funding need to create conditions that support and enforce cooperation. This has to start with the calls for research proposals and continue with breaking down the obstacles to cooperation among researchers in organizations, disciplines, and research levels. To enable vertical cooperation, the practice of evaluating, ranking, and funding researchers and their institutions based solely on publication in peer-reviewed journals has to change. A university professor recently told me that he would very much like to work with me on a farming research project, but he simply can’t. The work would not allow publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and working on a project without the chance of peer-reviewed publication is against the rules of his university! I am confident that the knowledge, creativity, and imagination of agricultural engineers and researchers will be able to provide enough food for the world in 2050. However, to enable the necessary horizontal and vertical cooperation, the self-perception of researchers, the traditional barriers among various organizations and disciplines, and the methods of funding must change. To improve how agriculture works, we must first improve how we work. ASABE Member Markus Demmel, Program Leader, Department of Plant Production Engineering, Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Animal Husbandry, Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture, Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany; email@example.com. Top photo by Peggy Greb, courtesy of USDA-ARS. Bottom photo by Hans Kirchmeier.
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