Wijnand Sukkel works for Farm of the Future in the Netherlands. This project is harnessing technology and innovative production to make farming sustainable. Sukkels knows what is needed to turn agriculture around.
Researchers say our current way of farming is not future-proof. The environment is facing dramatic challenges, like declining biodiversity and soil quality as well as global warming and CO2 emissions. Changes to agriculture are necessary to decrease the impact of intensive farming on soil and to save arable land for future generations.
Farm of the Future is a project developed by researchers from the University of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. It aims to grow crops in a sustainable way. By that, they mean "regenerative, productive and resilient" crops. Wijnand Sukkel is a project manager there. He says that agriculture is not future-proof "because we are doing it in big monocultures". Hundreds of hectares of the same crop are grown in the same place. He compares this to COVID-19 and social distancing; "if you put a lot of genetically exactly the same individuals close together, then the pest disease spreads very quickly".
Growing the same crop, in the same area, in large quantities, means that for them to survive farmers must use pesticides. Pesticides contribute to the deterioration of soil and expose farmers to a vicious circle of pesticide and fertiliser use, not to mention the adverse effect certain pesticides can have on farmers' health.
On top of this, Sukkel says that modern-day agriculture uses heavy machinery which causes subsoil compaction.
Subsoil is the layer of soil underneath topsoil. It is critical for plant roots. If subsoil is compact, roots cannot penetrate it and water cannot infiltrate it. If "there is drought, you have little water, you have to do everything in a layer of 25 centimetres. So soil compaction, soil structure is also a problem with the current way of agriculture", Sukkel adds.
To watch the full interview with Wijnand Sukkel, click on the media player above.