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Technology for ecology

“If we genuinely want to work towards making agriculture more sustainable, we have to dispense with the old way of management in the primary sector which has a strong emphasis on managing problems,” Professor Peter Groot Koerkamp of Wageningen University & Research believes. As part of the new Synergia project, working together with a broad consortium of businesses and knowledge institutions, he will be investigating how new technology and management can contribute to an agricultural system based on technology for ecological principles.

“For time immemorial, agriculture has been set up to respond to imminent dangers. If a crop or animal is at risk of disease, farmers react by using pesticides or medicine. Of course, a great deal of attention is given to prevention, but things would be a lot better if biological and ecological mechanisms form the basis of the system, rather than the farmer with of a lot of external inputs,” explains Groot Koerkamp. “In our new programme, we will be investigating how we can get agricultural systems to work as much as possible like an natural ecosystem and where management is no longer based on the ‘control paradigma’”.

“Take a field of crops for example. Arable fields are now given over to a single crop and this monoculture only increases the risk of diseases and pests. If several crops are cultivated at the same time and the right combination is chosen, crops can make each other more robust. For example, as a result of crop B containing natural pest-control organisms, disease in crop A can be prevented”.

“With new measuring principles and instruments we can better understand and follow the biological processes in individual plants and animals and develop new ecologically based solutions for the design and control of production in greenhouse horticulture, arable farming and dairy farming.”

TU Eindhoven, TU Delft, the University of Twente, Radboud University Nijmegen, OnePlanet, TiFN and various companies will be taking part alongside Wageningen University & Research in the project, for which TiFN will carry out overall management and knowledge integration. As far as Groot Koerkamp is concerned, this is a big bonus: “The TiFN approach is a highly effective one. For example, I have seen how valuable the Ambition-to-Results session is in other TiFN projects. This means going back to the basis of the project idea. From this basis an effective project structure can be set up in which the activities of each work package tie in effectively with those of other work packages, making a successful contribution to the project goal.

“The TiFN approach also ensures that the transfer of knowledge between project members is significant. TiFN is experienced at speaking the language of both scientists and industry. For that reason, TiFN forms a strong bridge between both parties and the interests of both groups can be properly taken into account. Ultimately everyone feels the benefits, because only in this way is it possible for the project to stay on track and deliver the right results.”