Developing Agriculture to City Production | Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein in the "Deutsche Bauern Korrespondenz" (German Farmers)

Developing Agriculture Towards Urban Production
Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein

Farmers have always been and continue to be drivers of technological innovation and social development. Without animal and plant breeding, no cities and cultures would have been created. Today's global society would not have come into being without state-of-the-art equipment for the protection of cultivated plants and livestock. The lack of food after the war has developed into the market of our affluent society. Precision farming or glasshouse cultures have found their way in, as have intensive livestock farming or DNA-based seed development.

Increasing the efficiency of food production has been the focus of farmers for decades. Following the Paretoprinzip, 80 percent of the results could be achieved with 20 percent of the total expenditure with the division of labor. However, the remaining 20 percent of the results now require 80 percent of the overall effort. These last 20 percent are significantly influenced by demands arising from the UN's Sustainability Goals 2030 (SDG 2030). And although they were not formulated and laid down until 2015, there is a basic consensus worldwide that things cannot go on as they have done so far.

New expectations for agriculture

The role of farmers has developed undeservedly and more quickly than expected from a trustworthy breadwinner to a "bogeyman". Today, farmers are expected to adopt a new, post-industrial approach: Instead of creating abundance and thus food waste, people want "just in time" production. Digital apps calculate the number of customers in restaurants and their preferences. Transport and intermediate storage of fresh goods are to be reduced through regional product distribution. The abundance of food is to be replaced by a zero-waste cycle economy. And why can't local specialties such as seawater shrimp be produced close to the city without having to transport them hundreds of kilometers?

From conventional methods of cultivation to alternative production

Sustainable climate protection thinking and growing cities are thus driving a rethink in food production. Intensive interdisciplinary research and new scientific findings offer alternative production methods for producing individual foods in their function as vegetables or meat. In recent years, disruptive production methods have emerged that can also do justice to the development of cities as socio-economic centers. The expenditure of resources can be reduced significantly with these new methods in the sense of the SDG 2030. Artificial intelligence will change the food industry: A tomato will always remain a tomato, but where and how it is produced changes breathtakingly fast. New cultivation methods go beyond our traditional ideas. Many types of vegetables have now become urban plants, "cultivated" with artificial light in nutrient solution in a digitally controlled indoor farm.

Intelligent systems revolutionize everyday life

The production of food, supported by intelligent systems, is almost every day and will continue to be so in the future: robots prepare burgers, digitally controlled bees pollinate flowers, photo-optical systems reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Variable LED luminaires signal eternal spring for fast-growing plants with their light radiation. Indoors, up to 30 harvests per year are possible.

Controlled cultivation in a closed system reduces land use

Examples of controlled cultivation can be found in space travel, in greenhouses on the Arctic Circle or in biosphere reserves. Closed systems use state-of-the-art technology - solar energy from light-emitting diodes, genome editing with CRISPR, hydroponics or protein fiber cultivation - to produce food outside the field. This controlled urban production, however, is close to the consumer, without expensive, complex logistics, fresh, without pesticides or herbicides, seasonally available, regional and organic, in short sustainable. Land use is significantly reduced. Agriculture should adopt these developments and examine which methods produce higher results with less effort.

Even more closed-loop thinking for maximum sustainability
But agriculture also needs to change its basic thinking about resource reprocessing: Existing methods are still based on linear thinking and linear production. What we need, however, is networked thinking in cycles. Every by-product, every waste product is a new raw material for reuse.