June 5, 2021 8:00 PM

Sustainable economy with smart technology

  • Farmers are constantly faced by various challenges, with climate change and agriculture’s carbon footprint the latest of these
  • With politicians and consumers now calling for more sustainable food production, agriculture must continue to feed the growing global population and deal with the consequences of climate change

At the company’s first Sustainability Day, John Deere discussed with farmers, advisors and experts how the agricultural machinery industry can contribute to finding a better balance between economy and ecology. In particular, digital solutions can reduce environmental impacts and help farmers to achieve the same or even higher yields with less use of mineral fertilisers, agrochemicals and fuel.

Opening the event, Markwart von Pentz, President of John Deere’s Ag Division, and Professor Peter Pickel, responsible for future technologies, explained the potential of digital solutions as well as how agriculture will continue to change.

“Precision ag enables farmers to combine efficient field work with environmental and nature protection,” said Peter Pickel. “Using these technologies, by 2030 CO2 emissions can be sharply reduced by as much as 11 per cent.”

Markwart von Pentz stated that famers will become climate savers and added: “Digitalisation is a key enabler to make farming more sustainable. It also provides better transparency through enhanced documentation. In this way, farmers will be able to regain consumer confidence.”

During the Sustainability Day, John Deere identified three areas that have a particular impact on the sustainability of agriculture:

•          Soil protection – protecting the soil with modern design concepts;

•          Fertilisation – using digital nutrient measurement to upgrade manure and slurry as a valuable organic fertiliser;

•          Crop protection – reducing the use of agrochemicals by more precise applications.

Overlaps and overdoses of agrochemicals should also be avoided. Technologically, these problems can be solved by accurate GPS-controlled driving with AutoTrac, intelligent SectionControl and John Deere’s ExactApply individual nozzle control. At the same time, there is a growing trend towards the use of site-specific or even individual plant treatments instead of uniformly spraying complete fields.

Site-specific applications divide fields into zones that can be treated differently. Drones or satellite images, for example, can measure crop density and related disease pressure, so the necessary fungicides can be applied. Again based on application maps, sections of the field are only treated where necessary. This approach can provide massive cost savings, depending on crop and field variations.

John Deere’s new See & Spray technology is even more precise. High-speed cameras and artificial intelligence help to capture crop populations, and See & Spray Select can identify weeds and apply a herbicide at specific locations across the field.

The next step up is the advanced See & Spray system, which can distinguish between weeds and the growing crop. Again, only the individual weeds are treated, while the crop is not affected. See & Spray technology is currently developed for row crop applications, and herbicide savings of up to 90 per cent are possible.

Mechanical weed control also benefits from the use of high-speed camera technology. The AutoTrac Implement Guidance system provides precise control of mechanical hoes used between crop rows. The system’s accuracy allows the tractor to be driven at high speeds of up to 16kph. For organic farms in particular, this technology offers a real efficiency advantage. Even conventional farms can benefit by combining chemical and mechanical measures, and therefore significantly reduce the cost and environmental burden of herbicide use. 

These technologies cannot on their own contribute to the total climate neutrality of agriculture. However, they can help to reduce fertiliser, agrochemical and fuel costs, and significantly reduce farming’s carbon footprint. Farmers are certainly willing to produce food and energy more sustainably. This approach calls for action by all participants to set a new course for European agriculture in such a way that a successful balance can be struck between economy and ecology.

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