Opinions
Olaf Deininger

«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.

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