At a ceremony under the motto "Learning from the past means gaining the future" to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) on September 21, 2022 in Potsdam, speakers looked towards the future. Agricultural engineering and bioeconomy research and related technology developments are crucial drivers for the necessary change in the use of natural resources, they said. More attention must be paid in the future to the potentials, opportunities and obstacles of implementation in agriculture and industry.
In the presence of numerous guests from politics, science and industry, Prof. Dr. Barbara Sturm, Scientific Director of the ATB, and Dr. Uta Tietz, Administrative Director, summed up the research achievements of the institute over the past 30 years. They thanked all former and active employees as well as the institute's partners for their commitment and support since the reestablishment in 1992.
Steffen Weber, Head of the Department of Science and Research in the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg, acknowledged in his welcoming address the scientific contributions of the institute, also with regard to the transfer of results into practice. One can be proud of what has been achieved so far and look forward to new projects such as the Leibniz Innovation Farm, which will be established under the coordination of the ATB in the next few years as a showcase for the bioeconomy.
The ATB's founding director, Dr. Gerhard Wellschof, who joined the event via live video, conveyed his congratulations to the ATB as well as some theses for a continued successful future, including the appeal: "As a research institute, you have to run in order to at least stay in place, otherwise you'll fall behind." As Barbara Sturm explained, the institute has definitively been following this. Bioeconomic topics such as the use of residual materials for the circular economy, be it recycling to biogas or bioconversion to biobased chemicals, have been on our research agenda for many years alongside the classic topics of crop cultivation, animal husbandry and the use of biomass for the production of food and biobased materials. Here, issues of bioeconomy at the systems level and precision agriculture were researched and implemented when these terms were not even in use," says Barbara Sturm.
In her presentation "Where is agricultural engineering and bioeconomic research heading?" she traced as an example the path of technical developments in crop production. She contrasted the previous concept of precision agriculture, which uses sensor-based technology to compensate for natural heterogeneities, for example of the soil, through precise management measures, with the concept of environmentally controlled, highly diversified agroecological production. "Biodiversity loss is currently one of our most pressing problems worldwide. Mixed cropping of different crops on the same land, i.e., the interaction of a wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms in so-called inter- or mixed cropping systems, has many advantages, including improved resilience and higher overall yields. However, technology to manage these systems is lacking to date. Agile management of such diverse and complex production systems requires knowledge and technology. This is the area that we want to work on," said Prof. Sturm. "We need to better understand ecosystems and learn from them, integrate environmentally driven management goals, and establish feedback loops to the ecosystem in our technology developments," Sturm describes future research tasks.
Agriculture in transition - what does practice need for change to succeed? Henrik Wendorff, President of the Brandenburg Farmers' Association, outlined the current situation of farms, which are confronted with the implementation of ever new legal frameworks in the areas of environmental and climate protection as well as animal welfare. According to Henrik Wendorff, this poses considerable challenges. Technical innovations could provide support here. However, the acquisition of new techniques and processes takes both time and skilled personnel, with agriculture also increasingly suffering from a shortage of skilled workers. What is needed, he says, are practicable and cost-effective technical solutions that enable farms to continue to operate at a satisfactory level. Henrik Wendorff congratulated the institute on its 30th anniversary and added: "I am looking forward to continuing the fruitful cooperation in technology development between the ATB and agricultural practice in the future."
Bioeconomy - challenge or necessity? Prof. Dr. Christine Lang, Co-Chair of the International Advisory Council on Global Bioeconomy (IACGB) and former Chair of the German Bioeconomy Council, emphasized that a sustainable bioeconomy must focus on more efficient use of energy and raw materials. A 1:1 replacement of fossil resources with renewable feedstocks at our current level of use is not sustainable, she argued. It is necessary to reduce resource consumption, to put biological waste and residual materials to good use, and to develop entirely new, recyclable products and solutions. Science and technology development are important drivers of the transformation to a bioeconomy at regional and global level. With its research work, for example in the biotechnological production of biobased chemicals from organic residues, ATB shows what such solutions can look like, she added. "Without a societal rethink, however, we will not achieve the change. We need to reflect on our own consumption habits and transform the familiar linear usage path - from raw material to waste - into sustainable circular action. The aim is to consume less, to use things longer or more than once, and to recycle. To contrast traditional economic incentive structures, we also need more communication about bioeconomic success models to society," emphasized Christine Lang.
The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy is a pioneer and a driver of bioeconomy research. We create the scientific foundation to transform agricultural, food, industrial and energy systems into a comprehensive bio-based circular economy. We develop and integrate techniques, processes and management strategies, effectively converging technologies to intelligently crosslink highly diverse bioeconomic production systems and to control them in a knowledge-based, adaptive and largely automated manner.
We conduct research in dialogue with society - knowledge-motivated and application-inspired. Currently, there are 250 scientific and technical employees at the ATB. In 2022, the institute will receive basic institutional funding of 50 % each from the federal government (BMEL) and the state of Brandenburg(MWFK) in the total amount of EUR 14.5 million (including construction). The income from third-party funding amounts to EUR 8.2 million.