Long-term investments in soil health require a change of mind-set and behaviour

Healthy soils and secure future food production is depending on long-term investment in soils. Generations have to collaborate. Investing in intelligent precision farming technology is part of the solution. However, the challenge lies in the need for a fundamental change of mind-set and behaviour to support the farmers who commit themselves to lifetime investment in sustainable soil management.

2020.10.27 | Line Carlenius Berggreen

Robotti seeding (left) and planting (right). Photo: AGROINTELLI

Based on 20 years of research and development within sustainable soil management, the Danish company AGROINTELLI is contributing with an alternative to the current heavy farm machinery by offering a generic fully automated farming system for arable farming. The company transforms new agricultural knowledge into products and technology platforms that can be used directly in the fields. The focus is on developing new intelligent solutions within sensors and automation for the agri-plant industry with ambitions of making food production reliable, sustainable and profitable.

Based on known agricultural technology, the farming robot is manufactured with standard components, and weighs less than half of a similarly advanced tractor. The low weight reduces the risk of soil compaction and structural damage to soil, which results in higher crop yields per hectare. The robot accommodates fieldwork such as seeding, weeding and spraying and its performance equals, as a minimum, the performance of the traditional heavy-duty machinery.

Over the past thirty to forty years, farming has become increasingly automatized with the sole purpose of being bigger and faster to do more in less time. No time is left to evaluate whether the right thing was done and ask, “What do plants and soils really want?” There is a need to focus on what is best for soils. AGROINTELLI has developed a robot that is autonomously controlled by a computer and that does not depend on a human driver.     

 “Our main idea is to take the human factor out of the calculation, take out the man-hour salary. Then, to be efficient, there will be no need for heavy-duty machinery. You just need one person to control ten robots. As a consequence, the robots provide valuable time to observe and evaluate the health of your plants and your soils.” – Ole Green, CEO AGROINTELLI

Ole Green, CEO AGROINTELLI and honorary professor at Aarhus University, Photo: AGROINTELLI

Long-term investment in soil should be good business

This intelligent technology used in the robot enables farmers to prioritize and optimize the health of plants and soils. It is a positive long-term investment, compared to the costs of the traditional tractor, and the technology fulfils the needs and expectations of farmers who wish to change to sustainable soil management. Profitable business for farmers, and in the agricultural industry it means more jobs and increased income for the government, - a strong motivator for behaviour change.

Going from using heavy machinery to automated robots is just as big a change of behaviour and change of mind-set for the farmer as it was when going from using a horse to using a tractor. The workflow changes. The horse was used for ploughing and for taking the family to church on Sundays. The horse needed feeding and shelter all year round.  The tractor is used for seasonal fieldwork, and requires maintenance and man-hour salary for operation. The robot can be used for traditional agriculture, permitting precision farming and optimization of soil and crop management as well as for multiple data collection purposes. Based on inputs, the robot calculates and navigates itself, follows an optimized route in the field, and operates hour after hour – even on weekends. 

Ole Green points to the fact that we are facing a huge socio-economic challenge. A farmer’s economy, today, is tied to traditional structures of investment with short-term loans. Short-term instalment on loans is good business for banks. However, looking at the structural damage, we have caused to soils, it will take from 50 to 150 years to restore up to 5 % of carbon in our soils.

Generations have to collaborate. A farmer has to change his mind-set from having an individual 30 years carrier in agriculture to engaging in a collective collaborative lifetime investment in sustainable soil management over the course of generations to come. Hence, banks and policy-makers need a fundamental change of mind-set to support and encourage the farmers who commit themselves to optimizing soil health and food production.    

“We are facing a global problem. We need to go beyond the regional and national scale. This is why the outcomes from EJP SOIL are essential. We need documentation from across Europe to get the attention of all decision-makers” – Ole Green, CEO AGROINTELLI

Long-term instalment loans and political incentives to support new sustainable soil management practices is good investment in the future.

Need for strong united voice from research and the agro-industry

Documented research is essential for sustainable agricultural industry. According to Ole Green, research will show the consequences of not changing our farming behaviours for our European food production and calls out for socio-political action. Decision-makers need research that documents the long-term value for our society in maintaining and improving the health of our soils.    

“Results from large scale research like the EJP SOIL programme must calculate models and demonstrate what it is that we are gambling with if we do nothing”, states Ole Green. “We need decision-makers to acknowledge long-term investment in soils – this is a huge challenge.”

As a commercial agricultural industry, AGROINTELLI’s societal perspective is to contribute strongly to preserving and improving the soil functions needed to handle both climate change and a growing population. Hence, contributing to having a more resilient and robust outdoor food production system, which can ensure a production base for the coming generations.

It is a strong joint effort between research and the agro-industry that must demonstrate and deliver arguments to decision-makers that it is possible to improve the health of our soils and secure food production for the future.


 Robotti performing mechanical weeding in cereal (left) and sugar beets (right). Photo: AGROINTELLI

 


Acknowledgment:

This article is written based on an interview with Ole Green, CEO AGROINTELLI and honorary professor at Aarhus University.

Contact:

https://www.agrointelli.com/about-us/

For more information:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_O5OgXwfp4

https://www.agrointelli.com

www.agrointelli.com/investment

DCA report No. 121, May 2018  ’Sustainable soil management’

 

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