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“The areas of agriculture and food are still silos”

Interview with Maximilian von Löbbecke, 365 FarmNet

Maximilian von Löbbecke founded the Farm & Food 4.0 Congress in 2016 and entrusted the German Farmers’ Publishing House (Deutscher Bauernverlag) with the content management and overall responsibility in 2017. How does he see the current state of digitisation in the agriculture and food industry? Which challenges exist on the side of producers and consumers? He shares a few thoughts on this in the following interview.

Mr von Löbbecke, concepts like digital farming, farming 4.0 or digital agriculture are hot topics in the agricultural industry and in politics. What’s the hype like in reality? 

Maximilian von Löbbecke: “If I were to ask farmers in the USA what is coming out of Silicon Valley’s catchword AgTech, I would usually get the answer “Hollywood Show”. This reminds me that we must take extreme care to make sure that digitisation in agriculture is something that actually reaches the field in the end.”

What are the current sticking points in establishing digital methods in the agricultural and food sectors?

“Above all it’s about the recognisable added value and the usability. If I am unable to convey the added value, and if the farmer or the consumer does not recognise a direct added value, then they won’t use the systems and we will have gained nothing. 

This is something already at play when the farmer enters data into his or her various systems. The farmer needs to recognise the advantages he or she can draw from it. Consumers can – in theory – use barcodes to find out where the ingredients in their food come from, but customer interest and use in doing so is still extremely low.”

What are the ecological and economic advantages of digital value creation networks for farmers and consumers?

“Ecology and economy are very closely connected. One example is the early detection of diseases, in animals as well as in crops. This has an impact on the use of antibiotics or chemicals in the field or for animals themselves, with economic and ecological consequences. 

The second is the detection of problem areas in the field and the area-specific application of resources we tend to conserve for economic reasons. Limiting the use of chemicals also means cleaner soil and cleaner water.”

On the way to a networked agri-food system, what do you expect for the next 5 years?

“I used to see the areas of agriculture and food as silos where little exchange took place. There was plenty of discussion, and recently on the issue of traceability too – that’s to say, providing consumers with information about where the primary production took place.

The problem today is that there is no willingness to pay for this information, neither from the consumer nor the manufacturer side. However, quite a few things will be set in motion in this area in the next five years, not least the collection of data during the primary production of meat or crops for further processing in the factories to have a head start on information.”

What is the value of the Farm & Food 4.0 for you, as the founder, and what do you anticipate from your participation as a premium partner? 

“As founders of the Congress, and the ones who gave it its name, we have a very strong emotional attachment to the event. As always, it serves to kick-start, engender debate and accompany digital development in the agri-food sector. It should provide answers to many questions of the various participants in the value chain.”

Meet Maximilian von Löbbecke at Farm & Food 4.0 International Congress in Berlin on 21 January. Register for the Congress here.