Farmers need well-grounded and comprehensive training and, as honest entrepreneurs, must be guided by their professional ethics.
The fundamental demands made of agriculture include harmonizing productivity with conservation of resources and the requirements of farm animals. To achieve this, farmers must be willing to meet these requirements on their farms with appropriate know-how – knowledge, skills and will. Consistent improvements in the quality of vocational education and training have been evident for a long time. Alongside traditional vocational training as a farmer, ever larger shares of higher-level career qualifications such as technician, master craftsman, engineer, Bachelor or Master of Science are becoming widespread. Sufficient relevance to practice is also important here. The number of doctorates completed in Faculties of Agriculture has developed well since the start of the millennium.
Agricultural processes are extremely complex. Technical progress, which is advancing at an ever-faster rate, is making work operations in agriculture continuously more knowledge-intensive and capital-intensive. That is why the already very good level of training and continuing education among farmers must be expanded further. Appropriate training should be mandatory in order to enable responsible agricultural practice in the field and in the barn. To ensure that the knowledge and skills of farm managers and staff are kept constantly up to date, participation in regular training sessions should be documented.
In this way agricultural processes can be improved continuously, innovations can be implemented successfully on farms and this can be communicated appropriately to society. Environment-oriented and animal ethics aspects should also be integrated more strongly in all education and training courses. This will create the basis for knowledge and skills. And what about the “will”? The self-image of the honest farmer entrepreneur develops from joining up productivity, environmental protection and animal husbandry in line with animal welfare in a fruitful exchange with society, a professional ethos that is more than mere pursuit of profit. It covers the awareness that, alongside production, the farmed countryside and the animals kept have their own legitimacy. Alongside their specific production-based purpose, cultivated landscapes have a claim to regeneration, and farm animals have a claim to animal welfare.
Get to grips with nutrient surpluses, loss of biodiversity, climate change and animal welfare.
Innovations that will make production systems sustainable are necessary to achieve this.
Agriculture based on knowledge and innovation has led to remarkable increases in productivity. At a few points, however, the path to modernization crosses the limits of sustainability and jeopardizes the resilience of the systems.
Some developments in agriculture are being questioned particularly critically in debates with society. These include on the one hand the excessively high nutrient surpluses in the (so-called) hotspots of animal husbandry, and on the other hand the loss of biodiversity on intensively farmed land.
Agriculture must apply more effort here than in the past. Good animal husbandry and land management have to be central to the operation of farming businesses. Resistance to some plant protection products is increasing as a consequence of excessively intensive land and crop production methods. That is why minimum requirements for crop rotation must be formulated and followed.
Substantial progress has been achieved in animal husbandry. For example, the lifetime daily yield of dairy cows has been increased substantially, and the use of antibiotics in livestock husbandry has been reduced significantly. At the same time, however, the findings of carcase examinations repeatedly give rise to criticism of animal husbandry in general, and animal welfare in particular.
Despite this, agriculture shows a readiness to learn at a high level, and is able to improve its production processes. For example, the strong reduction in groundwater contamination with pesticides and the equally strong reduction of pesticide residues in foods during the past decade have shown considerable progress in environmental conservation and consumer protection. This is particularly remarkable because in the same periods productivity grew strongly.
During the past decades, German agriculture has considerably increased its productivity. Improved basic and further training, consultancy and advisory efforts, technical and biological innovations, and monitoring and regulatory frameworks have interacted very well together. With similar combinations of measures, and great commitment, agriculture can manage current and future challenges.
Willingness to innovate, inventive spirit, freedom of research and appropriate risk management are essential prerequisites in society to achieve sustainable agriculture.
Innovations are the prerequisite for technical, biological and social progress, and thus are the key to development in human society. Tried-and-tested concepts alone are not sufficient, as new challenges also call for new answers. This is particularly true when partially competing target systems such as productivity, environmental protection and animal welfare have to be harmonized. In Germany, widespread scepticism regarding innovation can be observed in the agricultural sector. For instance, in substantial parts of society, reservations against innovation appear to predominate and acknowledged experts are not listened to sufficiently by those responsible in the fields of policy-making and administration.
The causes for this are diverse. Possible explanations include the complexity of the interconnections, a lack of transparency in agricultural production processes and lack of confidence in experts. As a reaction to this, decisions on permits and authorizations for research and development processes as well as innovations are handled comparatively restrictively. This results in a migration of those with expertise and a shift of the research and development capacities of leading research companies to bases overseas.
Policy-makers and administrations should base their decision-making processes for approval and authorization of research, and development and innovation, more on the benefit and risk assessment of independent experts trained for the purpose. Decisions on the basis of opinion surveys or presumed opinion of the majority are not appropriate, given the complexity of the matter, its high level of importance and the division of labour in organized society. It should be possible for all stakeholders, including the general public, to understand evaluations and decisions. That is why plausible and transparent assessment criteria should be established and communicated throughout society.
Cost-effectiveness and animal welfare are equally important in livestock husbandry. Conflicting goals can be minimized by precise observation of livestock, attentive animal care, good genetics and innovative livestock husbandry systems.
Livestock husbandry methods that have proved successful so far, and are considered as state-of- the-art, are now being critically examined by parts of society and the scientific community. Points of criticism include large stock numbers, high occupancy density, housing and feeding that is inappropriate to the animal species, non-curative procedures performed on the animal, use of antibiotics, feeding with imported feedstuffs and emissions.
Goals must strike a balance between performance and animal welfare. The breeding goals must be aligned with this balance, and the housing conditions must ensure that essential conditions of animal welfare are satisfied – freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from issues related to the housing (discomfort), freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from fear and stress (distress), and freedom to express normal behavior.
It is important, however, to distinguish between objective and measurable restrictions to farm animals and the projection of human sensations onto other species.
The deficits in the production process must be named and eliminated. For this to happen, clear and usable indicators and criteria, prioritization of the source of fault and a consistent sanctioning system are necessary. Livestock farmers should work constantly to improve keeping conditions and take innovative action in this field as well. This includes implementing new methods to avoid non-curative procedures and investing in innovative housing systems in line with animal welfare that should not be prevented by permit-issuing authorities. Proven ability to keep animals and regular continuing training and education sessions should become standard. They help livestock farmers to identify defi cits themselves and eliminate these at an early stage. Animal welfare is a question of awareness and is demonstrated in action and in language – farm animals are living creatures that are not produced, but are kept.
Those who wish to impose higher animal welfare standards that involve additional costs will have to aim for comparable framework conditions on open markets. Otherwise, animal husbandry will migrate to locations with cost-saving lower standards. The advertising of “Secondary Standards” by the retail trade will only lead to results if the price levels are raised correspondingly. The Scientifi c Advisory Council at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture suggests using public funds for products produced with additional animal welfare aspects. This could cover the gap between the willingness of customers to pay and costs caused by such requirements. Whether this is viable in the long term should be investigated critically. It must be pointed out in all honesty that conflicting targets between animal welfare, environmental protection, animal health and economics cannot be resolved completely. This must be clarified in the debate within society.
Loss of biodiversity, nutrient surpluses and resistance to crop protection treatments can be reduced. Raising awareness among stakeholders, innovative technology, efficient varieties, precision fertilizers, and effective and environmentally compatible crop protection products all help here.
In recent decades, modern knowledge-based and innovation-driven production technology has led to considerable improvements in productivity. But this may have caused side effects – climate change, loss of biodiversity, water eutrophication. Criticism is directed at intensification of production methods for degrading cultivated landscapes, simplifying crop rotation sequences and excessive use of fertilizers and plant protection products. Traditional arable principles in designing crop rotation, tillage and sowing practices, as well as sowing times, must feed back more strongly into good agricultural practice. The spectrum of marketable crop species should be expanded so that traditional crop rotation systems satisfy more holistic arable needs. This aims at improving the cost-efficiency of “new” and niche crops (soya, durum, spelt, emmer, legumes and so on) by breeding in order to develop new markets and increase the cultivation of summer crops.
In the field of plant protection, preventive arable methods and the use of technical innovations (GPS, sensors, robotics) for mechanical plant protection should be increased. The use of resistant and tolerant varieties, (regular) changes of active ingredients and the use of new and more selective active ingredients should play a greater role in the future. The industry and the permit-issuing authorities should then ensure that a sufficient number of plant protection products for all crop species can pass through the official test procedures quickly. In the case of fertilizing and nutrient management, the focus is on implementing nutrient concepts to reduce strong regional concentrations of farm manure and to increase the transport-worthiness of farm manure.
Increasing the commercial usefulness of nutrients in urban wastes such as sewage sludge will also be very important, as will the combination of new cultivation methods and fertilizer application techniques (strip-till and under-root fertilizing). To increase biodiversity, farmers should develop higher sensibility for the ecological value of uncultivated areas (margins, hedges, field edge strips, copses, scrub areas and so on) in intensive arable farming regions too and cultivate and network these habitats following the ecological objectives. On the land, poor yielding but ecologically valuable sub-areas should be identified with the help of precision farming methods and cultivated in a sustainably way. Furthermore, it should also be considered that the arable farming locations in Central Europe and Germany are often highly productive. A decision to waive yields at these prime locations would probably lead to more intensive farming at other locations, which could lead to a higher cost for the environment.
Structural change is continuing to gain in momentum through digitization. Structures and relationships in the food value chain are changing fundamentally. Digitization should be used to sustainably increase efficiency and productivity.
Digitization is a megatrend throughout industry and commerce, and this is true in the agricultural sector as well. Computer speeds and data storage capacities are rising exponentially, and accordingly the cost per computing operation and unit of storage space is falling. This leads to a strong cost-reducing effect on all logistic and other operations connected with information processing, which abound in agriculture. Digital products, programs and applications can be multiplied and marketed at almost zero cost. This creates foundations for business revolutions. Accordingly, digitization will remain a constant companion of agriculture and all further links along the food value chain. Digitization will lead to far-reaching changes in the structures of the specific sectors. The number of companies/organizations, their size and power relations, their communication, their cooperation and business relations within and between value creation are subject to changes. And in the future, this will all change more strongly and more quickly than in the past decades.
These developments will be driven by the digitization platforms. The existing approaches overlap in their core functionalities, for example in farm or herd management systems. The platforms are competing strongly for the key positions in the sector, and are therefore often dominated by one or just a few strong companies. The resulting “proprietary” approaches that prevent simple data transmission from platform to platform are contrary to the farmers’ interests. The availability of cross-company applications and options for loss-free changing from one platform to another are of great importance for farmers for reasons of investment flexibility. In the long term, a few dominant platforms will emerge that are used by very large numbers of farmers and that integrate the crucial stakeholders in the value chain.
The trade will use data platforms in order to present production chains with defined and transparent processes that are customized for consumers. New opportunities and risks will develop for farmers. Agriculture will become more efficient, cause less harm to the environment and be better able to implement animal welfare. New business models will also develop. Special challenges will arise in questions of data safety and data sovereignty, in other words what belongs to whom, and who draws what benefit.
Farmers should face up to the debate with society and open a dialogue that should be conducted fairly and respectfully by all involved. This includes listening, realistic self-assessment, factual reasoning and a readiness to act courageously.
Agriculture and society have become estranged. Personal relations and opportunities for contacts between farmers and non-farmers are becoming fewer and weaker in the course of urbanization and structural change. At the same time interest in agriculture is declining, as foods come from the retail trade and the public does not see any shortages. This leads to a lack of knowledge about agricultural production. The machinery and methods used in agriculture change quickly, and given the lack of ties between the different groups, some parts of society assess these changes sceptically to negatively – too big, too technical, too much environmental harm, too distressing for farm animals, concentrated too one-sidedly on production. Innovations are perceived more as a threat than as a driver for macro-social progress.
Farmers have so far said little against these arguments. Involved too strongly with themselves in the quickly changing and challenging environment, under the pressure of the markets and framework conditions they developed new perspectives that were too narrow, focusing on their own farm. Bureaucratic specifications, extensive duties to document and increasingly more complex sectoral legislation are perceived as a nuisance. It is easy to make mistakes here that can then be used in antagonistic campaigns. “From barn and field to fork” – this vision has been lost from sight given the many intervening processing and trade stages. Restoring confidence is the motto. Farmers should not work their production systems to the limit of their possibilities, especially when this appears dubious from the point of view of society. In their own strategic interest, farmers should conduct an acceptance check for the measures they take. They should set up compliance rules themselves and create and publish a Compliance Code for sustainable management of land and for animal husbandry in line with animal welfare. Farmers should make use of continuing training and education more consistently, pick up sectoral information and implement examples of best practice. It is important to explain agricultural production and food production better to society and make this visible. Clearly specified and transparently awarded labels can help here. They create distinctions in the market and make specific offers for customers.
Farmers come across “authentically” as characters. They can arouse people’s enthusiasm for agricultural topics and are credible ambassadors for passing on interest in agriculture. This potential has been left untapped 10,000 times over so far. It is important to cultivate a productive discussion culture with all groups in society (NGOs, churches and so on). In this way the ideal of a future agricultural strategy supported by broad sections of society can become a reality.
Sustainable production methods should be supported with public funds. Key indicators and benchmarking should be used so that the practices attracting support can be verified, and the efficiency of the policy programmes be quantified and documented transparently.
In the medium term the EU budget is more likely to shrink. Lower revenue on the one hand, for example as a result of Brexit, will be set against more extensive tasks on the other (for example in education, infrastructure, integration of refugees, foreign and security policy). This will also affect the budget for agriculture. That is why the active farms will have to adjust to a gradual reduction of area payments.
There will probably be no protection for reliance on a permanent agricultural policy of the kind we have known so far, but there should be protection against an abrupt change.
An EU agricultural budget can only be legitimized with a clear, long-term policy goal for the sector. The criteria that need to be observed for this include the following:
On the way to more sustainable agriculture, investments can also be co-financed by exit options that could otherwise only be implemented much later. For example, an exit premium could be granted for dairy farms with tethered housing, which is now considered out of line with current animal welfare standards.
Trade needs binding standards on sustainability and good governance, and to combat corruption, in order to compensate for production defi cits and create prosperity for all partners.
International agricultural trade makes an indispensable contribution to global food security. It benefits both importers and exporters. Open trade channels reconcile spatial, time-based, quantitative and qualitative strains between production and consumption.
Agricultural exports from industrialized countries to developing and emerging countries balance out production deficits, such as, for instance, in cereals as a staple food. Internationally fast-growing demand for milk, meat and refined products can also be served by international trade. For example, in the Middle East many countries have a structural grain deficit and therefore have to rely permanently on grain imports. Comparative cost benefits, as well as “virtual water” imported with agricultural produce, conserve local resources. The risks of supply security in developing and emerging countries are rising as a result of climate change and associated harvest failures. The responsibility of Europe as the prime agricultural location for international food security will increase further.
Agricultural imports from developing countries into industrialized countries bring export revenues into the developing countries that can be used for further construction of infrastructure and to develop know-how in agriculture and the economy. The political, economic and natural structures in developing and emerging countries are, however, often very sensitive and fragile. International trade must not be developed at the cost of sustainable use of natural resources. Good governance (human rights, legal security, and freedom from corruption) should be called for via binding UN standards.
Agriculture is organized via procurement and sales markets, as well as know-how transfer with international division of labour. In the past few years, international cooperation between states and the business sector has been focusing more strongly on agriculture, following decades of neglect. There are important fields in development policy cooperation – for example promotion of small-scale farmers and emerging farmers – that aim to create greater productivity and improved access to markets, education, technology and organizational development. Site-appropriate production systems are more important than fueling opposites between ecological and conventional, technology-oriented agriculture. The best toolbox for the site should be selected with regard to maximum eco-efficiency.
The agricultural and food sector is a strong segment of the overall economy. Without competitive agriculture that is integrated into thriving rural areas and ensures locally produced raw materials, the food sector will migrate away from Germany.
Without competitive agriculture, we shall lose the food industry in Germany in the medium term. The farm inputs sector, agricultural machinery and equipment, farming, the food industry and the retail trade all combine to make up the food value chain. Together they account for a gross value to the German economy of about EUR 170 billion (approximately 6.25% of the total value of all sectors of the economy) and focus on quality, innovation and technology. At the shop counter the sector is in close dialogue with society.
The economic significance of the food value chain is thus outstanding. In the EU, the agriculture and food industry is by far the largest branch of the economy. If we consider the entire sector with the associated businesses, it ranks at least third in Germany.
A large proportion of the companies in the value chain are located away from the urban centres in rural areas. There they belong to the “Hidden Champions” that secure jobs and affluence. Their long-term prosperity relies on the rural areas remaining vital and sufficiently equipped as regards infrastructure, educational opportunities and basic public services.
The food industry in Germany depends on regional supplies of agricultural raw materials. Many raw materials are not suitable for transporting over long distances and must therefore be processed locally. This applies especially for perishable foods. Consequently, industrial food production is tied to the availability of suitable raw materials. If agriculture in Germany and Europe were to be endangered in its substance, these raw materials would have to be imported across long distances. This would mean that in the medium term, the food industry would migrate to locations with local raw materials.