Innovators, entrepreneurs, employers or preservers of the environment – farmers embody a multitude of roles. Their daily chores don’t simply consist of milking cows and providing grain for baking bread. The farming profession is much more complex, interacting with several disciplines that all have a positive impact on the farmers’ own business as well as their surroundings.
Innovators: Farmers go high tech
Standing in his wheat field, a farmer examines his crops with the help of an application map on his smartphone. It shows satellite-generated images that depict field-specific environmental conditions such as soil and topography data. This information is then translated into a recommendation for the most suitable dose rate of crop protection for each section of the field. The farmer can now make more precise agronomic decisions out in the field. And what may sound futuristic is already a reality on many farms around the world. Bayer is driving this development and providing cutting-edge approaches: “Digital Farming gives superpowers to our farmers. We will help them implement their agronomic decisions with unprecedented accuracy, efficiency and ease,” explains Tobias Menne, Digital Farming Lead at Bayer. “And Digital Farming makes life easier for our farmers because they can spend far more time on decision-making,” he continues.
We have to get familiarized with modern technology because it will increasingly affect our farming practices.
Looking back, innovations have always made farming more productive. This becomes particularly evident in industrial countries: 115 years ago, a single farmer was only able to feed four people due to the technological limitations of that time. By 1950, as modern agricultural machines came into play, each farmer became capable of feeding around ten people. Today, due to ongoing technical innovations in breeding, crop protection and tillage systems data, in industrialised countries a single farmer can produce enough food for 129 people. And the openness of farmers toward modern technologies is gaining even more importance: The global population now increases by 80 million people every year. By 2050, farmers will have to feed 9 - 10 billion people while coping with the decline of available arable land, limited natural resources and more erratic climates.
Farmers as food provider in industrial countries
Besides this global responsibility, many farmers also try to keep pace with the latest technologies so their descendants have a good start when they succeed them. “We have to keep encouraging ourselves and the next generation to get familiarized with modern technology because it will increasingly affect our farming practices,” says South-Australian farmer Corbin Schuster, who just recently became a father. “My family has been here for seven generations, and I would like the farm to be here for another seven generations. The effective use of modern technology is the key to achieve this,” he states.
Innovators: Farmers go high tech
Entrepreneurs: Farmers strenghten the economy
Despite great efforts and long-term strategies to ensure global food security, the public often underestimates how far-reaching the farming profession is: “A big part of global society doesn’t give much thought to agricultural production and the diversity connected with the farming profession,” explains Klaus Kirsch, Global Manager of the Bayer ForwardFarming Initiative.
Agriculture as an economic factor
Indeed, many farmers are not only nurturers; they are also entrepreneurs, playing a vital role for the global economy. According to the World Trade Organization, world exports of agricultural products increased by almost six percent to US$ 1,745 billion in 2013 compared to the previous year. This growth rate is three times higher than the world average for all goods. Furthermore, the agricultural sector accounted for almost one-tenth of the global merchandise trade in 2013. Yet farmers face many challenges because a lot of their actions often depend on outside forces, such as markets and currency. They need an understanding of economics to calculate the risks and chances revolving around the farming business. Therefore, many farmers around the world have joined farming associations to stay informed about important economic developments impacting their profession. In Australia, for example, farmers can be members of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF). Ensuring Australian farmers can cope with the business of farming is one of the organization’s key priorities. “This is crucial because the farming profession is not only about using your hands but also about using your brain. It’s about highly capable individuals managing land mass responsibly,” states Simon Talbot, CEO of the National Farmers’ Federation.
Entrepreneurs: Farmers strengthen the economy
As well, agriculture represents the world’s largest employer: Worldwide, 1.3 billion people work in the agricultural sector – this equals 40 percent of the global working population. In Africa, more than half of the working population is employed in the agricultural sector.
Sustainability Experts: Farmers preserve the environment
Many farmers understand themselves as preservers of the environment, going to great lengths to run their farming business sustainably. Bayer supports this approach through Bayer ForwardFarming, a global knowledge platform for sustainable agriculture that tests fieldwork in cooperation with farmers: “Bayer ForwardFarming helps contribute to a sustainable agriculture that is in line with the farmers’ economic success,” says Kirsch. In this context, Bayer ForwardFarming builds on three core elements: integrated crop solutions consisting of high-value seeds and chemical and biological crop protection products; tailored services; and stewardship measures and partnerships.
One of the first farms involved with ForwardFarming was Hof ten Bosch in Belgium. Brothers Jan and Josse Peeters run the farm together and are highly committed to reconciling economic success with protection of the environment: “As a Bayer ForwardFarm, we show how the farming business can easily be combined with responsibility for the environment that includes also biodiversity,” explains Jan Peeters. In fact, they have already benefited from this sustainable concept. Four years ago they started collaborating with the Walloon Agricultural Research Centre through Bayer to develop methods to reduce erosion in potato fields. “As a result, we achieved a seven percent yield increase in 2011, based on the typical 40 to 45 tons per hectare yields for crisping potatoes,” Peeters continues.
In addition, preserving bee health, and thereby increasing biodiversity, is one of Hof ten Bosch’s other priorities. To accomplish this, they built bee hotels that provide new nesting places, and, in 2015, they set up another larger insect hotel with nesting and shelters to attract other pollinators and beneficial insects.
The farming business can easily be combined with responsibility for the environment that includes biodiversity.
One Profession, Many Facets
In the short term, more farms in France, Germany and the Netherlands will become part of Bayer ForwardFarming. Their crops range from wine grapes and onions to sugar beets to potatoes and winter wheat.
The ForwardFarming Program is also about showing farmers how to apply crop protection products correctly in order to protect themselves and to preserve the environment. One example of new, safe application inventions that is particularly bee-friendly is the Dropleg application, which allows a more precise treatment: “Its sprayers protect bees by reducing spray drift and avoiding crop protection products on the flowers,” explains Reinhard Friessleben, Head of Application Technology at Bayer.
Sustainability Experts: Farmers preserve the environment
In other countries, farmers preserve the environment by leaving a certain amount of their land untouched. One example is Brazil where farmer Vinícius Formighieri Lazarini must keep an environmental preservation area that is 20 percent of his land: “We can’t disturb this area. We try to reforest and continuously improve it,” he says. The Brazilian government has set up laws to leave a certain amount of land pristine: Out of an additional 85 million hectares of potentially cultivable land, only about 15 million hectares can actually be converted due to these rigid forestry conservation laws.
Technology, sustainability and socio-economic factors are central parts of agriculture, and, the people involved, namely farmers, don’t just do a simple job with a singular function. Instead, their profession influences our world in a multitude of ways. And all of these facets contribute to driving the future of farming and mastering global food security – one of this century’s greatest challenges.