Sustainable Agriculture in the Field

Innovations for
Water and Soil

Innovations for Water and Soil
Innovations for Water and Soil
Sustainable water management is crucial in agriculture. The Phytobac system protects valuable resources from undesired pollution.

Farmer Bernd Olligs calls it a day – an exhausting one on his field near Cologne, Germany. But for millions of tiny microbes, work is only about to begin. Because when Olligs cleans his spraying equipment at the end of the working day, the wastewater from the wash area is directed into a special tank: Phytobac™ – a biological system for the sustainable disposal of crop protection effluent. In the tank, millions of microorganisms immediately take action and start cleaning the water voluntarily. “Freshwater is an important resource in agriculture,” says Olligs. “And now, I as a farmer can contribute to water protection too.”

Because Phytobac reduces the volume of foreign matters that could otherwise end up in surrounding waters, including the wash water generated when cleaning spraying devices. “Such point-source pollution can be completely avoided with the Phytobac system,” says David Lembrich, who supervises Phytobac-projects at the Crop Science headquarters in Monheim. The concept is simple: A waterproof pit is filled with a substrate of soil and straw, providing an ideal habitat for the microbial volunteers. Bit by bit, the microorganisms have their go at the crop protection residues and start degrading them. The cleaned wash water eventually evaporates from the substrate, thus returning into the water cycle. Around 2,500 Phytobac facilities have already been installed throughout Europe and the number is rising. The sustainable system is also about to make its big trip to Asia. “And farmers from South America have expressed their interest as well,” says Lembrich.

And farmers from South America have expressed their interest as well.

David Lembrich, Crop Science in Monheim
2,500

Phytobac facilities have already been installed throughout Europe.

Promoting a Holistic Concept

Originally invented as the biobed process in Sweden, Bayer continued the development of the concept under the name Phytobac. “Phytobac is more than a simple pit with substrate in it. It is a holistic concept that includes advisory services to the farmer from the start, to long after the system is up and running,” explains Jens Husby, who has played a major role in pushing the biobed development at Bayer in Denmark during the past years.

How the Phytobac system works

The wash water is distributed over a substrate of soil and straw in a waterproof container 1. Potential product residues are degraded biologically 2 and the clean water evaporates 3. The straw in the Phytobac 4 serves to feed the microorganisms and is stocked up once a year. Once set up, a substrate can be used over many years.

Simple Measures in Sustainable Agriculture

Before the biological treatment system is installed, Bayer experts analyze the local soil, check the climatic conditions and calculate the evaporation rates. The wash water volume and the crop treatment frequency are also added to the equation. The result determines the size of the required facility. And if the agricultural business expands, the Phytobac system can be flexibly adapted. The system also offers numerous add-ons, for instance a rainwater collection tank to replenish the filling tanks for the sprayers or an oil separator that allows cleaning of entire farm machines. “Phytobac is an excellent example of how to engage in sustainable agriculture with relatively simple measures,” says Lembrich.

Two Questions to Bernd Olligs
“Increasing awareness for water protection”

Bernd Olligs
Bernd Olligs
Bernd Olligs, farmer from the Damianshof farm in Rommerskirchen, Germany

How can farmers contribute to water protection?
One way is to take on more responsibility when applying crop protection products and increase the awareness for water protection. We know that pollution from point sources can happen here and there, but we have to work on reducing it. The Phytobac system is a very sensible solution to do so.

Are there reasons for no longer cleaning the spraying equipment on the fields but rather on the premises of the farm?
The distances on the premises are shorter and I have everything I need at hand: from the high-pressure cleaner to the tools and spare parts if something needs to be repaired. My working processes are optimized and at the same time, I can save on a valuable resource: water.

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