«One-third organic farming does not solve the problem»
Pitting organic farming against conventional farming methods will get us nowhere, writes Olaf Deininger. Instead, a great deal of investment must go into new technologies in order to allow for a transition from industrial farming to intelligent farming. Only then will the differences between organic and conventional farming be consigned to the past.
Thursday, February 3, 2022
Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir has declared organic farming to be the new guiding principle to follow – on many occasions, but most recently in a press release this past week. Nevertheless, Özdemir should rethink this topic. «The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is making organic farming its guiding principle for sustainable agriculture. This means that the aim is for the amount of land dedicated to organic farming to have increased by 30% by 2030,» commented the Agriculture Minister this week. Many people may think that this is a step in the right direction and is justified by the well-known, largely relevant and documented arguments regarding the environmentally negative effects on the climate, the consumption of resources, and externalized costs. However, there are others who consider this guiding principle to be dubious, are worried about food safety and a dramatically falling level of self-sufficiency (which must be compensated for by more environmentally unfriendly products from abroad), and lament a false cult surrounding the (overrated) ecological compatibility of organic farming.
But no matter how you see the situation, you have to ask yourself «is it all so simple»? Black-and-white thinking – «more organic farming» versus «organic farming is pointless» If we want to leave the old and unproductive arguments behind us (and we have to do so in order to get the problems at hand solved), then we have to ask the question differently. We would have to ask ourselves although organic farming might be a step in the right direction, would this step be enough? Would organic farming solve all our problems? I would answer these questions by saying «not really»! This is because organic farming and conventional farming have one thing in common: they work predominantly according to industrial methods – and in so doing (currently) use relatively unintelligent techniques. For example, crops are not worked using special methods for each variety and all livestock are lumped together as one. Everything is way too crass. This is an area in which we ought to be more specific. There already exists new, mostly digital technologies that allow for more precise processes to be introduced, thus ensuring, for example, that pesticides can be used in a more targeted fashion, with farmers only needing to use 10 percent of the volumes they previously used.
Lightweight, automated and solar-powered machines can make mechanical processes more affordable and profitable again. Systems that work with artificial intelligence can monitor animal welfare, identify illnesses during breeding and rearing, and allow animals to be treated earlier and using preventative techniques – and not just once half of the herd has been infected.
We are currently living to see the transition from industrial agriculture to intelligent agriculture. If we think this through to the end, there will be no differences between organic and conventional agriculture in a few years’ time. And it is in exactly this kind of intelligent farming that Cem Özdemir ought to be investing – and in doing so, helping the operations to work with these systems. This would mean that we would no longer have to discuss the same topics over and over again in the future. Instead, the new normality would be intelligent, healthy and optimally sustainable farming for everyone.
Olaf Deininger is the Editor-in-chief of the agricultural media published by the Deutscher Fachverlag media group, an author («Food Code – Wie wir in der digitalen Welt die Kontrolle über unser Essen behalten» – «Food Code – how we retain control over our food in the digital world») and a digital expert. The business journalist has many years’ experience working in management positions in food media and specialist media. This article was first published in agrarzeitung on January 21, 2022.
Journalist, publicist, publisher and historian
Head of Knowledge Team Tamedia
Babette Sigg Frank
President of the Swiss Consumer Forum (KF)
Country President Syngenta Switzerland
Journalist at Lebensmittel Zeitung
Development Editor-in-Chief Agrar-Medien
“Ecological methods alone won’t cut it”
Columnist at Genetic Literacy Project and AGDaily
CEO Syngenta Group
President of Syngenta Crop Protection
Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine
Professor of Crop Science, ETH Zurich
Head of Biotechnology at Scienceindustries
Lecturer in Sustainability, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL
Agricultural scientist and president of Agroecology Science
Professor of Consumer Behaviour, ETH Zurich
Head of Nutrition and Agriculture at scienceindustries
Dr. Teresa Koller
Researcher at the Institute of Plant and Microbiology at the University of Zurich
Professor for Molecular Plant Breeding, ETH Zurich
Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine
Head of Business Sustainability, Syngenta Switzerland
Pesticides are to blame for an increase in brain tumours in children in the Zürcher Weinland and the Bernese Seeland, according to a study carried out three years ago. Experts commissioned by the federal government have now come to a different conclusion: the results could also have been accidental.
The potato harvest is not looking good this year. There is a shortfall of 100,000 tonnes, as reported by the Aargauer Zeitung. According to potato producers, this is a drop of 30 per cent compared to the long-term average.
The EU Commission has decided to endorse the assessment of the European Food Safety Authority, which found no critical problem areas regarding the effects of glyphosate on the environment and human and animal health. The EU Commission's science-based decision to extend the authorisation for a further 10 years is also a rejection of the scare campaigns by Greenpeace and Co.