Hungary: Farminar on Smart Soil Improvement

How does agriculture fit into digital welfare? What is the fourth wave agricultural revoultion? How do you restore degraded farmland? These topics were explored in an online "farminar" this week.

H. E. Ambassador René van Hell participating in the farminar
©Dániel Komlós
H. E. Ambassador René van Hell

On Wednesday, July 8, the Netherlands Embassy Hungary and the Hungarian Society of Precision Agriculture held a “Farminar” on smart soil improvement. In the online conference, more than sixty participants from multiple countries represented European stakeholders in governance, the private sphere and academia.

In his welcoming speech, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Hungary H. E. René van Hell highlighted that soils are not only the foundation of food security, they are also the basis of many complex ecosystems that society depends upon. Tackling climate change on a European level requires addressing soil degradation and a resilient European agriculture rests upon the good stewardship of our natural resources.

In her presentation, Deputy State Secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture Anikó Juhász talked about digitalization in agriculture. Hungary’s horizontally structured Digital Welfare Program spans multiple policy areas, including agriculture. The National Digital Agriculture Strategy is a part of this program. Deputy State Secretary Juhász explained that the soil project within this strategy aims to bridge the gap of lacking central data gathering – Thousands of soil samples are gathered in Hungary annually for research, however, these are not yet assembled into a central database. The project aims to build capacity in this area because the soil itself is not private property, but a public good.

Corné Kempenaar, Senior Research Scientist at Wageningen University, explained in his presentation how after twelve thousand years of development, the Arab and British agricultural revolutions, and the Green Revolution in the 20th century, today, precision agriculture and smart farming started the fourth great technological revolution in agriculture. Mr. Kempenaar presented the latest trends in precision farming in the Netherlands, an agroeconomy annually exporting €91.7 billion worth in goods and €9.1 billion in technologies, with €140 billion in turnover and a 6-7% investment rate in R&D. Precision farming is built upon the a tech-heavy enabling infrastructure that spans from the computer analysis of sensory data through satellite earth observation to robotics. Today, precision farming techs are spreading among Dutch farmers. More than 80% of Dutch farms incorporate smartphone and tablet-based ICT services, and nearly 100% have computers. While between 30-40% rely on soil scans, more than 50% rely on satellite biomass imaging.

Géza Gelencsér, president of the Vox Vallis local development association talked about the details of the soil restoration project in the Koppányvölgy Naturpark in Somogy county, Western Transdanubia. In Koppányvölgy (Koppány Valley), large scale industrial crop production has degraded the soil in the last decades, leaving behind what the locals call “whitelands,” barren limestone surfaces. Having no remaining organic layers, these lack the capacity to filter and store water or support plant life. In his presentation, Mr. Gelencsér showed drone footage of how environmental degradation stripped the forest soil entirely from the local hillsides. Aside from soil destruction, another issue is invasive plant species which gained a foothold in the edges of the disturbed and abandoned farmlands.

Saving these lands is a difficult objective – Which is why an Operative Group was formed to address the issue. The task of the local Operative Group is to recreate the organic upper layers in the ground. The team uses a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle this titanic challenge, tilling new layers of various organic matters with microbial additives on the whitelands. According to Mr. Gelencsér, organic soil normally has fifty metric tons of carbon per hectare. Currently, the program is able to reach 15 tons annually in carbon sequestration. The Operative Group was launched with the backing of the EU’s European Agricultural and Rural Development Fund of the European Innovation Partnership Program.

Here is an interesting video on the soil restoration project. The presentations from the event can be found here.