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Humus is almost as fossil as brown coal

Humus decomposition and regenerative farming: the keys to sustainable soil management.
Humus decomposition and regenerative farming: the keys to sustainable soil management.

But we can restore it regeneratively – with many advantages

Humus decomposition for fertiliser production

For over 7000 years, long before the discovery of the brown coal, humans have been exploiting soils and forests non-regeneratively and releasing additional CO2 as part of the carbonisation strategy. Through ever better and deeper ploughing, the quasi-fossil nutrients (especially nitrogen) in the humus were released and the humus content in many soils was reduced from an average of 3 % to around 1.5 %. For a long time, this provided a lot of fertiliser to feed mankind, but is now reaching its limits. Many soils have already been irreversibly damaged, but even more soils are now in great need of regenerative cultivation.

At 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, agricultural soils are the second largest source of CO2 emissions from agriculture, just behind deforestation.

Regenerative energy also for humus

As part of the generally necessary decarbonisation of all sectors, not only must nitrogenous fertilisers now be produced from green electricity/hydrogen instead of coal and natural gas, but the soil must also be rebuilt and at least partially fertilised with regeneratively produced humus. This is exactly what regenerative agriculture does with cover crops and usually greatly reduced tillage.

Soils are a wealth and must be cared for. However, they also offer a great opportunity to make an important positive contribution to the regenerative storage of CO2. This is because we can no longer get the burnt brown coal back into the open-cast mines.

Regenerative Landwirtschaft fördert Humusbildung und CO2-Speicherung
Regenerative agriculture promotes humus formation and CO2 storage

Humus build-up through cover cropping

Arable land stores over 140 billion tonnes of carbon in the top 30 cm of soil. Through practices such as tillage, an estimated 78 billion tonnes of soil organic carbon (SOC) have been lost since the industrial revolution, equivalent to 286 billion tonnes of CO2. (Carbon in Cropland Soils) For comparison, annual global CO2 emissions 38 billion tonnes of CO2 (Broken Record Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again))

Studies show that consistent cultivation of cover crops, where feasible in combination with direct sowing, can turn the soils of CO2 emitters into carbon sinks. CO2 is then additionally removed from the atmosphere using regenerative energy from sunlight. (When does soil carbon contribute to climate change mitigation?)

Increasing the organic carbon content in soils by 0.27% to 0.54% in the top 30 cm of the world’s cultivated areas could sequester 0.90 to 1.85 billion tonnes of carbon annually for at least 20 years. This corresponds to 3.3 to 6.8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. (The international “4 per 1000” Initiative)

The intensive use of green manure and direct sowing plays an important role here. It can bind 0.7 to 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year on up to 25 % of the world’s cultivated areas. (Climate Change and Land) For comparison: Emissions from road transport in Europe in 2022 0.74 billion tonnes of CO2 (Straßenverkehr: EU-weite CO2-Emissionen seit 1990 um 21 % gestiegen)

Soil care without ploughing

However, like any investment in the future, the soil and the humus in it must be well cared for. That is why a return to the plough is not an option. Depending on soil type and cultivation, soils have a binding potential of 1 to 4 tonnes of CO2/ha per year. However, a single ploughing of a no-till field can release up to 10 t CO2/ha and thus destroy the storage effort of many years. (Loss of soil organic matter upon ploughing under a loess soil after several years of conservation tillage)

This example shows the importance of efficient plant control without ploughing and with minimised soil movement. Furthermore, ploughing/tillage is the most energy-intensive agricultural practice (with the exception of flaming in organic farming).

Decarbonisation with minimised side effects

In order to decarbonise agriculture and make it an active climate improver in cultivated landscapes, some major changes will be necessary, but many farmers have already begun to make them. The side effects not only of ploughing but also of glyphosate for soil life, biodiversity and general health will always have to be considered.

crop.zone helps the Green Deal of farmers and society

Leapfrog innovations such as crop.zone, which uses electricity to manage crops without the need for chemical herbicides such as glyphosate, play a key role.

This is why leapfrog innovations such as crop.zone, which uses electricity to manage plants without the use of chemical herbicides such as glyphosate, will play a decisive role in achieving the challenging but necessary goals. crop.zone is the functional alternative when plants need to be controlled without soil movement, whether they are green manure, potato weeds, general or PPP-resistant weeds.

Farmers need new methods to meet the rapidly growing demands of climate protection and biodiversity. At the same time, they must always provide the world’s food supply, regenerative organic raw materials and also some fun with the luxury foods and drinks. As part of sustainable agricultural technology innovation, crop.zone supports farmers with food production as well as the Green Deal with society. Because we need both – without compromise.

Making the climate and agriculture more laughing again

Russia, fertiliser, nitrous oxide and the future of the Green Deal

Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” is the most harmful greenhouse gas after CO2 and methane. Agriculture is the largest source from fertilisers and animal production.
Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” is the most harmful greenhouse gas after CO2 and methane. Agriculture is the largest source from fertilisers and animal production.

Nitrous oxide – good news for Europe, not yet for the world

Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” is the most harmful greenhouse gas after CO2 and methane. Agriculture is the largest source from fertilisers and animal production. The good news for the performance of European agriculture: nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture have been stagnating in Germany and Europe for around 20 years because fertiliser efficiency has increased. The bad news is that fertiliser efficiency worldwide is much worse than in Europe and nitrous oxide emissions are continuing to rise. But even in Germany and Europe, nitrogen efficiency can still be increased significantly, because so far only 50-60% of the fertiliser actually reaches the plant. (Agriculture ‘major driver’ of rise in nitrous oxide emissions over past 40 years)

Better fertiliser management and additives such as nitrification inhibitors can help a lot more to ensure that the fertiliser reaches the plant and is not converted to nitrous oxide by bacteria beforehand.(A round-up of enhanced urea fertilisers and additives) Simply saving fertiliser because of the sometimes high prices does not increase efficiency and reduces the yield.

Fertiliser prices falling again – good news?

The fact that the price of synthetic fertiliser is falling again and there is no longer a shortage sounds good at first. However, this is ultimately due to the dumping prices of Russian nitrogen fertiliser, which is increasingly threatening European fertiliser production. (Shifting Market Landscape)

At the end of the day, nitrogen fertiliser is nothing more than converted natural gas or the hydrogen from natural gas. This is a problem if we become dependent on Russian fertiliser again instead of Russian natural gas. This imported fertiliser is much more harmful to the climate than the fertiliser currently produced in Western Europe because it has a much larger CO2 footprint (Carbon Footprinting in Fertilizer Production) Just as with agricultural products themselves, high environmental standards and fair production opportunities can only be achieved through a very clear import policy with high standards without dumping

Agriculture and climate need effective and fair solutions – real innovation

Hydrogen as such is also an opportunity, however, because hydrogen can also be produced from renewable electricity instead of fossil gas – and can also be stored excellently as liquid ammonia or solid synthetic fertiliser (15 things you need to know about hydrogen). Intensive work is being carried out on further options for producing ammonia and nitrogen fertiliser directly from electricity and atmospheric nitrogen (Green fertilizers could revolutionize agriculture and increase food security and Fertilizing with wind).

As always, individual technical modules are important and necessary, but must also be thought through to the end. For example, green hydrogen or electricity alone will not solve the fertiliser challenge in Europe or worldwide (Making international trade in green hydrogen fair and sustainable). Ultimately, the the atmosphere does not care whether the nitrous oxide was produced from natural gas or green electricity. Fertiliser efficiency and soil health also depend very much on the cultivation method and the local, fully organic fertilisers that can be produced from sunlight using regenerative methods to improve the soil: cover crops.

A lot has already been achieved, but far too often you still see open soil in times of warmth and sufficient sunshine. Nobody would simply switch off their solar system for months on end in conditions like these. Fields often still have considerable photosynthesis potential that can be utilised through interseeding, undersowing and other innovative and precision cultivation concepts (The Case for Regenerative Agriculture in Germany—and Beyond). This will always be an interplay of agricultural technology, plants, optimised nutrient supply and clever and precise field cultivation (Regenerative agriculture).

The only thing that will certainly not occur in this climate-friendly precision agriculture with less nitrous oxide and more fertiliser efficiency are fixed calendar dates and undifferentiable large-scale rules that can be pressed into simple forms. Diversity needs flexibility with clear goals and also clear and simple measurements of performance and success. A great deal of innovation will be needed here too.

Where can crop.zone make a positive contribution?

Just like farmers, crop.zone is also committed to taking responsibility. That is why crop.zone is developing processes that replace non-selective herbicides with electricity, e.g. for green manure control, without leaving any residues (Works like chemistry. But without chemistry.). And green manure can make an important contribution to targeted regenerative fertilisation (sun and atmospheric nitrogen). crop.zone has also actively shown that soil life is not harmed by the use of electricity.

As with chemical treatment, no soil needs to be moved by ploughing or cultivating, so that no additional water evaporates, no humus is mineralised and soil life is not disrupted. crop.zone is also working on system solutions for the cultivation of legumes and, where necessary, their siccation. In this way, we also support regenerative nitrogen fixation from the air as a fertiliser. Together, we must develop methods to reconcile economic viability, food security, fair access to soils, climate protection and biodiversity. This is not easy, but there is no alternative. What we postpone now will be all the more difficult later. Or the development time will be too short for increasingly urgent solutions. We will need the Green Deal in terms of content, regardless of the political name of the concept. We can only discuss the most efficient design and turn it into good concepts as quickly as possible, which will then serve as a guideline for politics and society.

Electro weeding
crop.zone is developing processes that replace non-selective herbicides with electricity, e.g. for green manure control, without leaving any residues.

Field trials – agricultural research for a sustainable future

Field trials - agricultural research for a sustainable future
Field trials – Agricultural research

12,000 years ago, humans first began to cultivate plants – the beginning of modern agriculture. Today, agriculture faces challenges such as climate and nature conservation, population growth and the increasing demand for sustainable and nutritious products. Modern agricultural research examines these challenges and develops new technologies, methods and products to meet them.

What exactly are field trials?

Field trials are an essential part of modern agricultural research. They are conducted under practical conditions to collect representative data. They can be used to test hypotheses, gain new knowledge and draw informed conclusions.

The advantages of field experiments are that they are highly valid because they are carried out under real conditions and the results are often more transferable to real situations than laboratory experiments. They also have a high degree of practical relevance, as the knowledge gained can be used directly to solve practical problems and make informed decisions. However, there are challenges associated with field trials. One of these is controllability, as it is difficult to keep track of all the influencing factors. The natural variability of the environment can make it difficult to identify clear cause-and-effect relationships and interpret results. In addition, field trials are often costly and logistically challenging, especially when conducted over long periods of time.

Eine regelmäßige Bonitur der Pflanzenbestände durch Drohnen- und Bildaufnahmen.
During and after treatment, regular assessment of the plant population using drones and imagery.

How do the crop.zone field trials work?

Das crop.zone System ist ein Zusammenspiel vieler Bereiche.

The process of a field trial in crop.zone often starts with an idea, which can come from any department in the company. The crop.zone system is a collaboration between many areas, so for example, design engineers may be testing a new applicator, IT may be introducing a new software version, or biology may want to test the hybrid herbicide system on a new crop.

This basic idea is worked out together, hypotheses are formulated and an experimental plan is developed that should be of use to all departments. Once a suitable field is found or has been found and the conditions are right, the practical part of the experiments begins. These are carried out according to biostatistical principles, i.e. the experimental elements are repeated several times and randomly distributed over the area, and the experiments are repeated under different conditions whenever possible. The trials are closely monitored by technicians and machine data, such as electrical data, is fed directly into the farm’s own database. Before, during and after the treatment, the biology department regularly assesses plant populations using drone and imagery surveys, assessments and sampling. These observations are documented in a special field trial application. Once all the observations have been made, the data is processed and analysed together to understand the complexities and develop our work.

The range of trials carried out by and with crop.zone is very broad and includes different types of trials:

  • Technical development and optimisation trials: These trials are carried out in the field to test feasibility and further develop applications. New target crops, applicator types, speeds and software versions are tested and optimised.
  • Validation trials: Specific process characteristics such as ecotoxicology, drying efficiency and quality characteristics are tested in collaboration with external test centres such as LWK NRW and Rifcon. In some cases, these tests are carried out across national borders to validate the results.
  • Demonstration tests: These are used to demonstrate technology and are carried out, for example, at field days such as PotatoEurope or the Weuthen Potato Days to demonstrate performance to a wide audience.
  • Field trials: Large-scale trials with a small number of varieties to test technology and agronomy in the field.

The results of our agronomic research and field trials form the basis of our management recommendations for a sustainable future.

Precision ecotoxicology for biodiversity and the reduction of bureaucracy

Biodiversität und Umweltschutz entstehen aus Wissen und Erfahrung
biodiversity and environmental protection

Why only more knowledge and information on the effects of more than just chemical pesticides can help biodiversity and farmers

Yield is also the harvest of experience

When it comes to yields and what influences them, farmers are very knowledgeable. They know their fields, their varieties, the crop protection products, the weather, current plant diseases and much more. And at the end of each year, they can see from the yield for each field whether their own judgement and actions were appropriate given the unchangeable circumstances. This creates local precision experience for the yields and the chance to do at least as well or even better in the future.

Biodiversity and environmental protection also arise from knowledge and experience

When it comes to biodiversity and environmental impact, however, the empirical situation is much worse. Even for plant protection products such as glyphosate, which have been used for decades, European expert committees have found that a clear ecotoxicological risk assessment is still not possible (Glyphosate: no critical areas of concern; data gaps identified). Insecticides that were previously used very selectively in the pelleting of seeds have been banned there, but the widespread, indiscriminate spraying of almost the same insecticides on entire fields has been permitted again, at least as an emergency solution and also in different ways depending on the EU country. The farmer’s understanding and detailed local knowledge of how to optimise biodiversity and environmental impact just as effectively as yield quickly fails.

We measure global and supraregional trends well

Es ist bekannt, dass die Insektenpopulationen zurückgehen und die Böden Humus verlieren, was zu Herausforderungen führt.
insect populations

It is well known that insect populations are declining across regions and even worldwide, that soils are still losing humus instead of storing more CO2 from the air and that groundwater pollution is still too high in many areas. But just as the yield is generated individually in each field, these challenges can ultimately only be solved locally and specifically through responsible action on a broad information basis in the individual field.

Lawnmowers instead of diversity at local lever

But the reality is different. Instead of targeted determinations of when and where exactly too much nitrate gets into the groundwater and what today’s fertilisation will mean for the groundwater in 20 years’ time, there are large red zones. They make no distinction between farmers who have used fertilisers responsibly for decades and others who have often maximised yields according to fertiliser specifications.  Many of the measures for eco-points or other environmental services that must be provided by the farmer or lead to compensation payments change at short intervals, differ from country to country (which leads to economic injustice), are hardly comprehensible from an agronomic point of view and are linked to calendar dates, for example. Especially in times of climate change and extremely fluctuating weather conditions, it should be clear that this type of rule-based micromanagement does not help to protect the environment. Nobody would think of telling a farmer by deadline when to plant potatoes, apply crop protection or harvest. At the same time, this multitude of regulations also creates mountains of bureaucracy (which should actually be reduced), forcing the farmer to sit at a desk instead of being able to look after the fields in a sensible way.

Works like chemistry. But without chemistry.

Good local action is only possible with good local feedback

How can we get out of this situation? Here are a few suggestions that are certainly not the only solution, but can provide an impetus as to which direction it makes sense to go in.

Micromanagement with centralised rules and data in a rapidly changing environment will never do justice to a highly diverse system like agriculture – and even less so in the future.

The aim must be more personal responsibility and individual action on the part of farmers, because biodiversity and soil health – just like yield – are created in every single field.

In order for farmers to assume more personal responsibility, they must be able to assess the effects of their actions as well as possible. This also applies to environmental protection and, for example, soil health. There are extremely large deficits here. Even for known herbicides (see above), the effects on insects are still frighteningly unclear. The risk assessment for insecticides is often not much better.  Here too, the effects of individual PPPs are more complex and, for example, temperature-dependent (DE: Major challenges for small soil organisms Drought and high temperatures make fungicides more toxic) or there are previously unexpected effects in deeper soil layers without large product concentrations (DE: Assessment of the risk to soil organisms under real conditions).

Consequently, in many cases even the general patterns of impact are unclear and even less so the specific local effects. There will still be many surprises – if we were to measure them.

This brings us to one of the key challenges. There is no precision ecotoxicology and precision ecology. But that is exactly what we need for biodiversity and soil health as part of precision agriculture, as well as for field cultivation and yield. Precision does not mean measuring or knowing EVERYTHING, but using effective tools to achieve the best possible information at the lowest possible cost. A GPS of biodiversity and environmental protection would be ideal.

Impact data of procedures are important

crop.zone, although not a chemical plant protection product, has nevertheless carried out extensive studies on its influence on earthworms, springtails, soil mites and soil bacteria during electrophysical siccation. No influence was found. Farmers also need reliable general data on the effects of ploughing, tilling, cultivating and other methods on soil life on soils that are at least similar to their own for optimisation purposes. It is known that ploughing and large-scale soil movement through potato cultivation and sugar beet, for example, can reduce the number of earthworms by up to 50 %. Nevertheless, there are farmers who, thanks to decades of soil care, have 50 to 200 earthworms per square metre without any problems, even with potatoes and sugar beet in the crop rotation.

Wirkungsdaten von Verfahren sind wichtig

crop.zone ist zwar kein chemisches Pflanzenschutzmittel, hat aber dennoch umfangreiche Studien über seinen Einfluss auf Regenwürmer, Springschwänze, Bodenmilben und Bodenbakterien während der elektrophysikalischen Sikkation durchgeführt. Es wurde kein Einfluss festgestellt. Auch die Landwirte benötigen zur Optimierung verlässliche allgemeine Daten über die Auswirkungen von Pflügen, Bodenbearbeitung, Kultivierung und anderen Methoden auf das Bodenleben auf Böden, die ihren eigenen zumindest ähnlich sind. Es ist bekannt, dass das Pflügen und die großflächige Bodenbewegung durch z. B. Kartoffelanbau und Zuckerrüben die Anzahl der Regenwürmer um bis zu 50 % reduzieren kann. Dennoch gibt es Landwirte, die dank jahrzehntelanger Bodenpflege auch bei Kartoffeln und Zuckerrüben in der Fruchtfolge problemlos 50 bis 200 Regenwürmer pro Quadratmeter haben.

Capturing the effects in each field as a goal

This shows that, just as with yield, we also need simple but highly meaningful measurement parameters in ecotoxicology and environmental assessment that provide every farmer with annual feedback. Digging in the field with a spade more often is certainly helpful and recommended (Video: New video on the spade test). In the future, however, even more objective methods for measuring biodiversity in the field, for example, will become increasingly important for monitoring success and payments for social added value. The DLG is also working on researching such methods (DE: BioMonitor4CAP: EU biodiversity monitoring project launched) and evaluating measures (DE: Strengthening species diversity and biodiversity in arable farming).

Conclusion – the land needs new (effective) measurements and also AI

Neue (effektive) Messungen und auch KI braucht das Land
Precision agriculture with AI

Only if precision agriculture also includes precision ecotoxicology can it take account of the high diversity of individual fields, local conditions and climate change, including biodiversity. Targeted action by farmers requires the best possible information about the effects of the methods in general and also about the specific effects on their own fields. Data alone will not help here, but artificial intelligence as an advisor for utilising shared experience and good simulation models will certainly provide a great deal of support, just as they do for weather forecasting. This can be an important contribution to less bureaucratic, less rule-based environmental protection and more reality-based, concrete action for the benefit of biodiversity. crop.zone supports this with its own ecotox tests and the development of crop control methods without chemical agents and soil movement. Innovation for the benefit of agriculture and society as a whole needs more meaningful and highly efficient environmental information, including for local field conditions. After all, biodiversity is generated on the individual field just as much as yield.

Fallow land and self-vegetation – letting it run as nature conservation?

Fallow land in the sense of unproductive land with self-vegetation is an option of current agricultural policy.
An example of fallow land – agricultural field with self-vegetation

Why biodiversity and soil protection need responsibility

How did the EU come up with the idea of demanding self-generating fallow land?

Fallow land in the sense of unproductive land with self-vegetation is an option under current agricultural policy. The requirement to do nothing is controversial for good reasons.

However, someone seems to have realised when the regulation was made that letting it run is not really an option. As an alternative, it is therefore also possible to grow legumes on larger areas (DE: Recommendations for the creation of fallow land). Furthermore, the regulations have currently been completely suspended in many areas (DE: EU agricultural policy: Commission sets mandatory fallow period for 2024)

But suspension is not cancellation. And in people’s minds, the image of “natural idleness” is becoming entrenched as a desirable state in the field. Fallow land sounds very much like popular nature conservation and also seems to have the textbook image of medieval three-field farming in mind.

This brings us back to the basic question of whether temporary fallow land in general and especially with self-vegetation are really forward-looking elements for improving biodiversity and part of future-oriented agriculture.

In the following years, we had to live with many weeds in the same way as before.
Self-vegetation on an agricultural field with legumes

Was fallow land once something useful?

In times of low cultivation intensity, when there was still a lot of nutrient-rich humus in the soil from previous millennia, there was no artificial fertiliser, mineralisation through intensive ploughing was not possible and without herbicides there was still a fairly diverse and site-appropriate weed plant community in the soil seed bank: Yes.

At that time, a limited amount of nutrients were additionally available from the soil in the fallow year, and the grazing animals supplemented the nutrients. Both could be utilised (more) profitably in the following year. The diverse plant community of this fallow year and the grazing animals further nourished the soil life and prevented monocultures. In the following years, farmers had to live with many weeds in the same way as before.

Can temporary fallow land make sense today?

Today, humankind has actively established very artificial plant communities on high-yielding fields for a long time and in a targeted manner. Many diverse weeds have already been removed from large areas of the fields due to competition and the high amount of nutrients added. Herbicides have deliberately reduced many weeds in the seed bank as well.

Many diverse weeds have already been removed from large areas of the fields due to competition and the high nutrient input.
Another example of self-vegetation on an agricultural field

The plants still present in the seed bank are those that are difficult to control but cannot be eliminated. Lambsquarter, goosefoot and similar plants are certainly not a good basis for biodiversity. The plants that colonise in the  fallow year are (volunteer) plants from previous crops, stubborn weeds and rapid first colonisers. However, these are not stable, favourable or even reasonably diverse plant communities.

Who benefits from self-vegetating fallow land today and who does not?

Lambsquarter and goosefoot enjoy ideal propagation conditions on many high-yielding fields with self-greening fallow thanks to an abundant seed bank and strong soil warming without shading as heat germinators. Herbicide manufacturers and those who favour deep tillage will benefit in subsequent years from bringing the rapidly growing weed seed bank back under control in the crop.

crop.zone could also be pleased with the electrophysical treatment of many weeds (= wrong plants in the wrong place in the wrong numbers) if they were not growing there to the detriment of the soil, the environment and farmers.

Farmers who normally work integrated, regenerative or with minimal tillage and otherwise carefully remove weeds or wild beet, for example, will have problems with self-vegetation for years if they want to achieve reasonable yields without significant amounts of herbicides or soil movement. If heavy tillage is resumed after the fallow period, humus, soil life and, for example, soil-dwelling bumblebees will suffer.

Under many circumstances, soil life has only benefited to a limited extent from fallow. Depending on the previous crop and the year, the fields are completely bare in autumn and winter and even in spring, for example, chickweed only emerges very late. There was then also little humus build-up and soil exudates. Not a good balance for climate and soil life.

An example of fallow land – sugar beet field in Germany

The pictures shown in this blog hardly need any commentary. If nothing is done, a previously well-maintained sugar beet field will turn into a mixture of maturing lambsquarter, a few other common weeds and volunteer crops such as potatoes or wild beet by September. Legumes and other cover crops, on the other hand, keep the soil cooler so that the mildew does not get out of hand or does not emerge at all. They also provide food and shelter for many animals in addition to binding knitwear. In the illustrated trial, no species-rich green manure mixtures were used, which would certainly have been better for the soil and biodiversity. However, in addition to technical objectives, the main aim was to demonstrate that self-greening fallow on fertile soils is merely organised irresponsibility without any major long-term (=sustainable) biodiversity benefits.

Incidentally, no fields were tortured for this experiment. The field was located in front of a sand pit and was excavated a few months later.

Why does it make sense to take responsibility instead of temporarily leaving high-yield areas to their fate?

To first control a field as a highly productive location in practically every aspect and then simply leave it to its own devices seems to be based on a very romanticised view of nature. Man is the exploiter. And without exploiters, “nature” simply gets better straight away. But who simply sends highly protected city children into the forest without minimal equipment and unprepared so that they can get to know natural life? Hardly anyone. Self-vegetating fallow land on productive fields also appears to be legally legitimised neglect. More on the topic of “fallow land” and its exciting cultural background at Master’s thesis Kruse 2022 (DE)

There are good reasons why, for example, regenerative agriculture exists (regenerative agriculture (DE)). In other words, agriculture that wants to continue to produce yields, but at the same time wants and needs to RESTORE many soil functions. This requires a lot of work and intelligent, active field management.  And that continuously over many years.

At the same time, depending on the region and soil, there are of course a large number of other valuable measures to protect the soil and stabilise and increase biodiversity. But in practically all cases, this involves active and targeted measures (100 fields for diversity (DE)).

Self-vegetation with intermixed potato plants on an agricultural field. Just like the farmers, crop.zone also focuses on taking responsibility.
Self-vegetation with intermixed potato plants on an agricultural field

Can crop.zone make a contribution together with the farmers?

Just like farmers, crop.zone is also committed to taking responsibility. That is why crop.zone is developing processes that replace non-selective herbicides, e.g. for desiccation, pre-sowing treatment and green manure control, with electricity and leave no residues. crop.zone has also actively demonstrated that soil life is not harmed by electricity.

Together, we must all find ways to reconcile profitability, food security, fair access to soils, climate protection and biodiversity. This is not easy, but agriculture, agricultural technology and customised ecology grow with the challenges and take on the responsibility.

30 May 2024 is the first International Potato Day

The tasty tuber really deserves to be honoured by the United Nations and crop.zone also congratulates it

The tasty tuber really deserves to be honoured by the United Nations and crop.zone also congratulates it

Potatoes are grown in at least 159 countries around the world. In many countries, the food culture would be poorer without potatoes and many people would be hungrier. Growing potatoes with a high yield and a tasty product is very demanding for farmers. From breeding, soil preparation and planting the potatoes to plant protection, siccation, harvesting and storage, everything has to be right to ensure that good potatoes end up on the table.

crop.zone supports potato farmers with the electrophysical crop.zone process following the increasing elimination of chemical siccatives. Using electricity instead of chemicals as an active ingredient, crop.zone allows the potatoes to develop a firm skin for good harvesting, transport and storage. And all this without waiting times required by regulations and with reduced dependence on the weather.

Because only with innovative technologies and farmers can we continue to produce the high yields, safe availability and affordable, healthy food that people need in line with the Green Deal and the Farm2Fork goal. 

crop.zone joins many others in congratulating the potato:

Catch crop cultivation and plowing

Catch crops, which are sown to green the soil before winter, play a crucial role in keeping it healthy. They contribute to humus enrichment and thus create the basis for high-yield agriculture.

What catch crops are there?

Catch crops are diverse and can offer many advantages due to their different properties. Their selection should be adapted to climatic and site-specific conditions as well as the crop rotation. Their later use, e.g. as fodder crops or green manure, can also be a selection criterion. With his selective choice of catch crop, the farmer can decide which advantages of catch crop cultivation he wants to use.

Some of the most common catch crops are:

  1. Legumes such as red clover (Trifolium pratense), white clover (Trifolium repens), alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and winter vetches (Vicia villosa) improve the soil structure through intensive rooting and their root residues increase the nitrogen balance in the soil. They can also bind nitrogen from the air with the help of nodule bacteria and are a good source of animal feed.
  2. Cruciferous plants such as mustard (Sinapis alba), oil radish (Raphanus sativus var. oleiformis) and turnip rape (Brassica rapa) can effectively suppress the growth of weeds and help to reduce soil pests thanks to their very rapid growth. The deep roots of oilseed radish break through compacted soil layers and absorb excess nutrients. Its cultivation has become particularly important as a preceding crop before mulch sowing.
  3. Grasses such as rye (Secale cereale), oats (Avena sativa) and ryegrass (Lolium perenne) are cold-tolerant, suppress weeds through their rapid growth and improve the soil structure. They are also suitable as fodder in spring.
  4. Other catch crops such as phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) or sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) protect the soil from erosion, break through it with deep roots and provide nectar for pollinators.

Mixtures of different catch crops combine the advantages of the individual plants.


Catch crop cultivation and plowing

What are the advantages of growing catch crops?

  1. Soil improvement: catch crops loosen the soil and increase the permeability for water and air, which increases soil fertility.
  2. Nutrient supply:  After dying, catch crops release nutrients that are available to the main crops, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
  3. Erosion protection: The plants form a dense cover of vegetation that protects the soil from wind and water and thus minimizes erosion.
  4. Weed suppression: catch crops reduce weed growth by competing for light and space, which minimizes the use of herbicides.
  5. Promoting biodiversity: They provide habitats and food for insects, birds and other animals.
  6. Economic aspects: Improved soil fertility and structure leads to higher yields. In addition, catch crops can provide feed for animals or be used as energy crops.

What happens to the catch crop after the winter?

The post-winter treatment of catch crops is an essential part of their use and depends on the cultivation objectives, the stage of development of the plants, the soil and climatic conditions and operational requirements.

Incorporation can be done mechanically by repeated tillage. On the one hand as deeper incorporation using a plow. On the other hand, as shallow incorporation with a cultivator, tiller or harrow, which mixes the plants with the top layer of soil. As a result, the soil is initially uncovered again and more susceptible to heavy rainfall and sunlight. Shallow incorporation is only possible with frost-sensitive catch crops that die completely in winter. Winter-hardy catch crops such as rye or winter vetch survive the winter and must be treated in spring. However, mild winters can also cause frost-sensitive plants such as oil radish or mustard to sprout again and cause weed problems.

Catch crops can be left on the soil surface as mulch. This regulates the soil temperature, retains moisture and suppresses weeds. Later main crops can be sown directly into the mulch, for which special seed drills are required.

Both in systems with minimum tillage and in direct sowing, the chemical killing of catch crops is usually unavoidable. This is done with glyphosate. An alternative to this is the killing of catch crop residues with the Volt.apply system. This technology is based on the pre-treatment of plants with a conductive liquid, followed by an electrical application that destroys the cells and water-conducting bundles of the plants, leading to ripening and drying.


Potato desiccation
Sustainable Potato Desiccation: Evaluating of Globally Used Methods for an Environmentally Friendly Approach

High MRLs for glyphosate in food

Products containing glyphosate are traded internationally. At the same time, protein-containing pulses in particular represent a major opportunity for European farmers. This is why the definition of maximum limits and the usability of desiccation technologies have a major influence on innovations and opportunities for sustainable agriculture.


High MRLs for glyphosate in food

Why do some foods have up to 200 times higher limits for glyphosate?          

While the MRL (maximum residue limit) for glyphosate in the EU is 0.1 mg/kg for most fresh plant foods, there are up to 200 times higher limits (2, 10 or 20 mg/kg) for dried beans/lentils/peas, mustard seeds, wheat, rapeseed, linseed, sunflower seeds, rye, oats, millet and soya beans.

( https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/eu-pesticides-database/start/screen/products  (as of 20 April 2024)) 

This means that even after the ban on desiccation with glyphosate in the EU, the import of food desiccated with glyphosate into the EU can be maintained.

Particularly in the case of pulses with their high protein content, new market opportunities are also arising due to the protein strategy of the EU and, for example, Germany (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2023/751426/EPRS_BRI(2023)751426_EN.pdf  ; https://www.bmel.de/DE/themen/landwirtschaft/pflanzenbau/ackerbau/eiweisspflanzenstrategie.html  ). And the trend towards vegetarian and vegan foods actually supports the opportunities for European farmers who are not allowed to use glyphosate for desiccation even further (https://www.cbi.eu/market-information/grains-pulses-oilseeds/dried-lentils/market-potential).

 This distorts market opportunities for farmers, further exposes food to glyphosate and at the same time harms the environment worldwide.

Why is there desiccation of crops instead of natural ripening?

Desiccation can increase quality and secure the harvest in unfavourable weather conditions. The basic idea of desiccation therefore makes a lot of sense.

Desiccation of plants is the targeted drying out of a plant before harvesting. This is done, for example, to make harvesting easier, to improve quality, to synchronise the time of harvest or to avoid harvest losses due to rain or frost.

Desiccation is preferably used for cereals, pulses and oilseeds that ripen unevenly. In the case of potatoes, desiccation enables the targeted formation of firm-skinned tubers.

The plants can be desiccated chemically, mechanically or by electric current. The herbicide glyphosate is frequently used for this purpose worldwide (except for potatoes). It penetrates the root system, but also leaves residues in the harvest and, for example, in the unripe grains left in the field, which are then eaten by small mammals and insects.

Does the use of glyphosate pose significant risks to biodiversity?

In line with the important precautionary principle, the answer is yes. In 2023, the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) assessed the future use of glyphosate in a comprehensive scientific opinion as a template for political decision-makers. In its brief summary, it writes: “With regard to biodiversity, the experts found that the risks associated with the representative uses of glyphosate are complex and dependent on several factors. They also pointed to the lack of harmonised methods and agreed specific protection requirements. Overall, the available information does not allow for clear conclusions on this aspect of the risk assessment….”. (https://www.efsa.europa.eu/de/news/glyphosate-no-critical-areas-concern-data-gaps-identified )

The future of desiccation and regional cultivation fairness

crop.zone is working on replacing desiccation with glyphosate in many areas of application with electric current so that specially increased threshold values are no longer necessary. This also applies to pulses. This is good for the consumer and also for the environment. At the same time, European farmers who are now prohibited from desiccation with glyphosate will once again have the opportunity to safeguard their harvests while maintaining high quality. This will also open up new and growing markets, for example in the field of protein crops. This is because desiccation secures harvests, even if it gets too wet again before the harvest – also due to climate change


High MRLs for glyphosate in food
High MRLs for glyphosate in food

Combating Invasive Plants: A Sustainable Solution with crop.zone

Invasive plant species, such as Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), pose a significant threat to agricultural productivity and biodiversity. These aggressive plants can spread rapidly, outcompeting native vegetation, damaging infrastructure, and reducing the land’s overall fertility. Japanese Knotweed, in particular, is known for its resilience and difficult-to-control nature, characterised by its large leaves, hollow stems, and extensive rhizome network. Traditional methods often fall short, but crop.zone offers an innovative, sustainable solution for managing these invasive plants effectively.


crop.zone utilises an electro-physical treatment method that offers a sustainable and highly effective alternative to chemical herbicides

The Growing Challenge of Invasive Plants

Invasive plants like Japanese Knotweed are challenging to control due to their rapid growth and extensive root systems. These plants can grow up to 3 metres (10 feet) in a single season, with rhizomes spreading horizontally up to 7 metres (23 feet) and vertically up to 3 metres (10 feet). This extensive root system makes them incredibly resilient, capable of regenerating from small root fragments. Conventional herbicides often require multiple applications and can harm surrounding crops and soil health. Mechanical removal is labour-intensive and rarely effective, as even small rhizome fragments can regenerate.

The crop.zone Solution

crop.zone utilises an electro-physical treatment method that offers a sustainable and highly effective alternative to chemical herbicides. This technology targets the plant’s physiology, disrupting its cellular function and causing it to die back without the need for repeated chemical applications.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Electro-Physical Treatment: The process involves applying a low-voltage electric current to the plant. This current disrupts the cell membranes within the plant tissues, leading to desiccation and eventual death. Unlike chemical herbicides, this method ensures that the plant cannot regenerate from root fragments.
  2. Precision Application: crop.zone’s equipment is designed for precision application, ensuring that the electric current is delivered directly to the target plants. This minimises any impact on surrounding crops and soil health, maintaining the integrity of the farming ecosystem.
  3. Sustainable Practice: Our method aligns with sustainable agricultural practices by reducing the reliance on chemical herbicides. This not only protects the environment but also meets the increasing consumer demand for eco-friendly farming practices.

Benefits for Farmers

Implementing crop.zone’s technology in the fight against invasive plants offers several key benefits:

  • Effective Control: Our electro-physical treatment ensures that even the most resilient invasive plants, like Japanese Knotweed, are neutralised, preventing regrowth and spreading.
  • Environmental Safety: By avoiding chemical herbicides, farmers can protect their soil health and surrounding ecosystems, promoting biodiversity and sustainable farming practices.
  • Cost Efficiency: While the initial investment in crop.zone technology may be higher than traditional methods, the long-term cost savings are substantial. Reduced need for repeated treatments and labour-intensive removal efforts lead to significant financial benefits.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Increasing regulations on chemical herbicide use can pose challenges for farmers. crop.zone’s non-chemical approach ensures compliance with current and future regulatory standards, providing peace of mind and operational continuity.

Conclusion

Invasive plants, such as Japanese Knotweed, pose a formidable challenge for professional farmers, but they are not insurmountable. With crop.zone’s innovative electro-physical treatment, farmers can achieve effective and sustainable control of these invasive species. Our technology not only addresses the immediate problem but also supports the broader goals of sustainable agriculture by reducing chemical use and preserving soil health.

By adopting crop.zone’s solution, farmers can protect their land, enhance productivity, and contribute to a more sustainable agricultural future. Embrace the power of innovation and sustainability with crop.zone, and together, let’s tackle the challenge of invasive plants head-on.

For more information on how crop.zone can assist in managing invasive plant species on your farm, visit our website or contact our support team.


Enhancing Potato Quality through Innovative Technology from crop.zone

Potato desiccation is a crucial process in potato cultivation that significantly affects the quality of the tubers. This is where crop.zone’s technology comes in, offering a sustainable and effective alternative to chemical herbicides. The innovative method from crop.zone ensures optimised skin formation, improved baking quality, and longer storability of potatoes.

Optimised Skin Formation

By applying crop.zone technology, the desiccation process is precisely controlled. This leads to uniform and robust skin formation. Well-formed skin not only protects the potato from mechanical damage during harvest but also from sprouting and diseases during storage.

Improved Baking Quality

Potatoes treated with crop.zone technology stand out due to their higher baking quality. The targeted desiccation optimises the ripeness of the potatoes, resulting in better texture and more intense flavour when baked. This quality improvement is particularly important for processing and sales.

Longer Storability

Another advantage of crop.zone technology is the improved storability of the potatoes. Effective desiccation reduces the risk of rot and sprouting, allowing potatoes to be stored for a longer period without losing quality. This ensures that farmers can market their harvest more efficiently and minimise losses.

Improved Haulm Detachment During Harvest

The application of crop.zone technology also facilitates haulm detachment during harvest. The precise desiccation causes the potato haulm to dry evenly, making it easier to separate from the tubers. This reduces the effort during harvest and minimises the risk of damage to the potatoes.


By applying crop.zone technology, the desiccation process is precisely controlled. This leads to uniform and robust skin formation. Well-formed skin not only protects the potato from mechanical damage during harvest but also from sprouting and diseases during storage.

Conclusion

crop.zone technology offers farmers a sustainable and efficient solution for potato desiccation. The resulting improvements in skin formation, baking quality, and storability, as well as the easier haulm detachment during harvest, significantly contribute to enhancing the overall quality of the yield. Thus, farmers benefit not only from higher product quality but also from a more efficient and environmentally friendly production method.