The DAKIS vision

Digitization in agriculture is advancing rapidly, as reflected in terms such as Smart farming, Digital farming or Agriculture 4.0. They all stand for a future form of land management in which the most modern information and communication technologies are applied, and will thus go far beyond the “ Precision farming” concepts used in practice to date. How extensive the changes brought about by digitalisation in agriculture will be and what impact they will have on our agro-ecosystems is yet to be seen.

In the DAKIS project, a vision for the future was developed that aims to use the potential of digitization for an improved provision of ecosystem services.

It is the year 2050. Farmers Meyer are inspecting their fields. A drone flies above them and measures the biomass on their fields. The data tells them when the best time to harvest is. Field robots weed between the beets growing in a depression. Other autonomous machines fertilise the wheat on the small slope nearby. Beforehand, sensors have determined exactly which nutrient the plants are lacking. The farmer is satisfied. All the plants look healthy and strong. They will reap a good harvest in late summer. Meyers now has room for up to five crops on a single field. Their fields do not pollute the groundwater; on the contrary, they produce clean water and provide fresh air for walkers passing by. They have also thought about nature conservation and have created an ecological protection area, along which you can see many insects and field birds. From the drone’s point of view, the field looks like a colourful patchwork mixture. But behind this apparent disorder is a highly sophisticated system. Each plant grows exactly where its needs are best met. At sites where the soil is sandy and poor in nutrients and the crops have been taking care of themselves in recent years, the Meyers have now created a flower strip with wild herbs. Insects buzz among the daisies, lupins and mallows. This year, the farmers created their plan for their plant cultivation with the help of a digital system.

The autonomous robots of the “BoniRob” platform, developed in collaboration between industry and research, can already selectively remove weeds and communicate with drones.

Back to the year 2021. Today, agriculture is caught between conflicting objectives. In addition to the increasing demand for food and bio-based raw materials, agriculture is being called upon to:

  • make efficient use of resources,
  • contribute to climate adaptation,
  • provision ecosystem services and protect biodiversity,
  • minimise health risks,
  • adhere to ethical guidelines, and
  • create a stronger interlinkage with the value networks

These partly conflicting requirements could be balanced by means of smart farming.

Our vision is that novel agricultural management systems will enable an enhanced systems understanding of the complex interactions within the agroecosystem, resulting in spatially as well as functionally diversified cropping systems that are able to harmonise conflicting land use objectives. These could be automated, small-scale cropping systems that are landscape-specific to the needs of society, integrating the provision of ES and biodiversity conservation from the planning process through production to marketing.

Thanks to the agricultural management system (DAKIS), the dynamic-flexible provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity through agricultural production is subject to comprehensive transparency, since entire value chains from the producer to the consumer in urban areas can be considered. The new resource-efficient organisation of work made possible by smart farming, through digital platforms and networked field robots, provides the farmer with information and decision-making aids and thus creates the basis for new cooperations between farmers and businesses. The creation of farmer networks, linked with knowledge about the site-specific, social demand for ecosystem services, brings about a new form of land use in harmony with the natural biogeophysical boundaries and functions of the landscape (ecosystem approach).

Common patterns of thinking in land management are thus being called into question. Management cooperation between land users is being completely redefined and the separation of different land use systems (e.g. arable land, grassland, forest) is being partially dissolved. This is leading to changes in the agricultural landscape, including “island or patch cultivation”. Comparable to the “ Thünen’s rings“, new concentric use ty