New technologies like Blockchain or the Internet of Things can make organic farming more efficient and transparent. But they also entail risks, for example in terms of data protection.

Digitisation has long since arrived in agriculture: Computer-controlled agricultural machinery cultivates the soil and intelligent sensors determine the need for fertilizers. Farmers monitor their fields via satellite to find the right time for harvesting. Because it is easy to tell from space whether the plants are already ripe. Supply chains can also be monitored using modern methods. RFID solutions, for example, enable contactless identification, control and tracking of each individual product – from producer to retailer.

Organic farmers can benefit from digitisation

Modern technology is usually expensive and therefore worthwhile, especially for large companies. But organic farmers can also benefit from digitisation: “We assume that digitisation can increase productivity in organic farming”, says BayWa CEO Klaus Josef Lutz. “Not in the sense that, in the end, much larger volumes will be produced, but the risk of crop failure could be reduced. We sometimes have harvests in the organic sector where 60, 70 percent of the yield is lost”.

The “Food and Farming” research group at the Hanover Laser Centre is investigating how autonomous robots can detect weeds and pests and then destroy them with laser beams. The use of chemical pesticides could be significantly reduced or even completely avoided with intelligent agricultural robots.

The “DigiVine” project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), also aims to reduce the use of pesticides or ban them from the field altogether. Working machines such as leaf cutters or grape harvesters can recognize the exact position of the vines and exchange information. This makes it possible to control the pests in a targeted manner, namely only where there are leaves. This reduces environmental pollution and saves production costs.

Dangers of new technologies

However, experts also see risks in the use of digital technologies: Google, Amazon and agricultural companies such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF could control research and development. More and more data is being generated and the question arises as to who else – apart from the farmer – is allowed to use this data.

In a position paper on “Data sovereignty and data use in agriculture”, the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (Bitkom) demands that “the sovereignty over personal data” should lie with the farmer himself, but it remains questionable how the data can be separated clearly and who will ultimately continue to use them.