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September 15, 2016 << back >>

“Let’s make sure that every drop counts”

Agriculture and digitization fit together very well. That was one major conclusion of this year’s “Future of Farming Dialog” hosted at the Bayer ForwardFarm Damianshof in Germany, where around 130 international journalists gained deeper insights into sustainable farming practices. Tobias Menne, Head of Digital Farming at Bayer, spoke glowingly about digital technologies that will become a farmer’s co-pilot in field management in the near future – and about Bayer’s ambition to be part of this evolution.

Digitization has long reached agriculture. At present there are 26 million connected devices in farming around the world. By 2020 there are expected to be 97 million, according to a current study published by Machina Research. Data-based local information improves decision-making in the field and helps to forecast infection risks and pest infestation better. By using digital farming technologies, products can be deployed exactly where they are needed for the individual plant.

Developing a farmer’s co-pilot

Agricultural machinery and IT specialists are paving the way. That’s for sure. But what about seed and plant protection experts? Are they also playing a decisive role in digitization on the farm? Tobias Menne’s answer leaves no doubt: “Yes, they are. Take a look at Bayer for example. We offer digital tools to analyze infection processes and are partnering with experts to deliver the best possible digital solutions. Our aim is to develop a farmer’s co-pilot for field management.”

By doing this, decision-making becomes sharper, smarter, and simpler. The reason is quite simple, Currently, farmers treat their fields homogeneously. “But we are absolutely convinced that in a digitized agricultural world this kind of ‘one size fits all practice’ will not be necessary anymore,” says Tobias Menne. “A grower is likelier to say ‘Let me put a herbicide where weeds are growing, let me put a fungicide where it is necessary, and let’s make sure every drop counts’.”

That is why Bayer has developed, together with partners, digital tools that support growers by analyzing the infection process of fungal diseases and the development and migration of pests. Moreover, there is strong geoinformation support to tackle various challenges: from site-specific application of crop protection products to the assessment of crop conditions. “One click and the data, the application map, is directly traveling from our system to the computer that is on the sprayer so that the machine automatically knows where to put the product in the field and where to save it,” Tobias Menne explains.

It’s all about weeds

So much for fungicides. And what about weeds? “We can see weed patches via satellite but no specific weeds. Yet it is absolutely essential to see which weeds are growing in the field as that determines which product should be used to control them,” says Tobias Menne. That is why Bayer came up with a new idea, the idea of a weed app. Farmers benefit from documentation and across-season information on weeds per field. That allows more transparency while at the same time the weed app will be a fast and easy-to-use decision support tool. How does it work? By simply taking a picture of an in-field site with a smartphone. The results are then displayed directly and on the spot. “This is what we call smart scouting,” Tobias Menne adds.

The first commercial version of the WEEDSCOUT app will be available in several app stores in the first half of 2017 and will also be developed further to include insects, diseases and the nutrient status of plants. “We are going full steam ahead because digital solutions like this increase the level of agronomic understanding. And it also makes agronomic knowledge available to smallholders. For the larger farming businesses an app like this might be a convenience, but for the smaller ones it really is a matter of a good season or a bad one.”

Future of sustainable farming

Bayer will invest 200 million euros between 2015 and 2020 in the digitization of agriculture. Currently the company has digital sales and runs product tests in ten markets, such as Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Russia, and some European countries as well. Tobias Menne is sure that this is only the beginning. “In the future, farmers will know in very much greater detail where an individual insect is flying, they will know in real time where a disease is developing, and they will know where an individual weed is growing. That is digital farming, and it is the future of sustainable agriculture.”