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.Contact:
New study shows producers where and how to grow cellulosic biofuel crops
17.01.2018 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Robotic weeders: to a farm near you?
10.01.2018 | American Society of Agronomy
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy