Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New tools for sustainable farming

Agricultural scientists quantify sustainability

Environmentalists are just as fond of talking about it as are politicians, economists or marketing experts – "sustainability" has become a buzzword. The problem is that the term sustainability can refer to many things and have manifold interpretations. Agricultural scientists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen have shed light on the subject.

Together with colleagues in theoretical and applied science they have managed to give the term "sustainability" a more definite meaning. They have helped to make this multi-faceted concept quantifiable – a benefit to farmers, food manufacturers and consumers alike.

Not to live at the expense of the environment and of coming generations, but rather to strike a balance between exploitation and renewal when using resources – this is a central idea of sustainability. It originated in forestry and can be reduced to one basic principle: Never fell more trees in a forest than can grow back. Today the idea of sustainability has taken on significance in all sectors of the economy, but the crux lies in the implementation. "Regenerative systems tend to be very complex. Farmers aiming at running their enterprises in a sustainable way need a solid basis for their decision-making," says Prof. Kurt-Juergen Huelsbergen from the Chair of Organic Farming and Crop Production Systems at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen.

The research question was: How can the sustainability status of farms with available operating data be determined and systematically improved? The goal was very ambitious – to improve the environmental balance of agricultural enterprises without compromising their operating efficiency and social performance. In years of meticulous work to this end, the team of researchers developed indicators and models to analyze, assess and optimize the sustainability of agricultural enterprises. After all, sustainable farming really does benefit everybody: It conserves natural resources, saves energy, reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizers, and fosters a healthier environment, more competitive farms and safe foodstuffs.

Thanks to their new indicator model, the TUM researchers are now able to describe agricultural enterprises as systems based on their material and energy flows. "We now have absolutely accurate methods for determining the emissions in air and water, as well as special tools for assessing the threat to soils from erosion and compaction. In recent years, groundbreaking methods for calculating the climate balance as well as indicators for bio-diversity have emerged. These allow us to collect data on all significant environmental effects of agriculture," said Hülsbergen. Working together with agricultural researchers from the Universitaet Halle-Wittenberg, TUM scientists integrated these model components into a single software application. In field tests at 80 farms across Germany, the computer generated "virtual enterprises" and visualized their environmental data using charts and graphs.

Of course, operating in an environmentally sound way is not enough. For it is only when an enterprise strikes a balance between ecological factors and economic and social aspects that it becomes truly sustainable. To include these factors the TUM Chair for Agricultural Economics, in collaboration with the Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim, developed a second set of indicators. This set includes relevant economic indicators such as profit or investment rate, as well as social factors such as co-determination, workload and remuneration level. With this extension the sustainability status of an agricultural enterprise is now fully quantifiable.

The German Agricultural Society has already set up a certification system according to European DIN norms based on these scientific results. If a tested enterprise can meet its target values, it receives the certificate "Sustainable Farming – Fit for the Future." The food industry is also employing the new indicator model. Two large-scale bakery enterprises have already used it to test how sustainably their grain suppliers operate.

Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Chair of Organic Farming and Crop Production Systems
Prof. Kurt Juergen Huelsbergen or Norman Siebrecht
85350 Freising-Weihenstephan
Tel. 08161/71-3032 or -4499
Fax 01861/71-3031
E-Mail: bzw.
Further information online:
Free pictures:
Background: The Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt has been sponsoring this research project since 2003.

Patrick Regan | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>