Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New tools for sustainable farming

27.08.2009
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.

Contact:
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: huelsbergen@wzw.tum.de bzw. norman.siebrecht@wzw.tum.de
Further information online: www.nachhaltige-landwirtschaft.de
Free pictures: http://mediatum2.ub.tum.de/node?id=806924
Background: The Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt has been sponsoring this research project since 2003.

Patrick Regan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tum.de
http://www.wzw.tum.de/oekolandbau/

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide
16.07.2018 | UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

nachricht Advance warning system via cell phone app: Avoiding extreme weather damage in agriculture
12.07.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) e.V.

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>