A focal point for Fraunhofer: Structural change in the “Helmstedter Revier” through sustainable agricultural production and the digitalization of farming

Press release /

How can an economic, social and ecologically sustainable structural change be achieved in the former opencast mines near Helmstedt? How can jobs in this region be safeguarded and new ones created? Which innovations are necessary in order to strengthen the agricultural enterprises in the region in the long term? These questions are being addressed not only by politicians and the people and companies of the Helmstedt region, but also by the scientists of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

© Fraunhofer, Max Niemann
René Borresch, Managing Director of the Federal Training College Burg Warberg; Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christoph Herrmann, Director of the Fraunhofer IST; Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft; Prof. Dr. Lothar Hagebölling, Member of the Structural Commission Helmstedt; Hilmar Freiherr von Münchhausen, Managing Director of the Netzwerk Ackerbau Niedersachsen e.V.; Volker Hahn, Chairman of the Netzwerk Ackerbau Niedersachsen e.V. (l.t.r.) during the "Focus Journey Structural Change" at Burg Warberg.

On November 3, 2022, the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST therefore initiated a round-table discussion at Burg Warberg, the headquarters of the Netzwerk Ackerbau Niedersachen (Lower Saxony arable network, NAN). The event was held within the framework of the “Fokusreise Strukturwandel” (Focus journey on structural change), presented by the President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Professor Reimund Neugebauer. Against the backdrop of the climate crisis, a growing world population and geopolitical instability, around 30 representatives from politics, science, business and agriculture discussed challenges and solution approaches for today’s agricultural systems. Among them was the Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Barbara Otte-Kinast: “We need a modern agriculture that exploits the great opportunities offered by digitalization. This is the only way that we can efficiently further develop the agricultural sector and prepare the region for the future!”. Her ministry has therefore supported digitalization projects of the Chamber of Agriculture at the Domäne Schickelsheim with around two million euros, she said.

One goal is the optimization of agricultural production with regard to ecological and economic aspects. Accordingly, the focus is increasingly moving towards regional and decentralized solutions that allow optimal adaptation to the respective local circumstances. Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, emphasized: “The development of decentralized and resilient high-tech agricultural production systems for the safeguarding of high-quality food production provides a significant contribution towards sustainability and is essential for a crisis-proof, independent food supply. As a result of the existing expertise within the agricultural sector in the Helmstedter Revier, numerous points of reference are available with which Fraunhofer, in collaboration with our partners in the area, can develop technological solutions that will secure and expand the future viability of agriculture within the region and beyond.”

In order to promote agricultural structural change in the Helmstedt region in an exemplary manner, the Fraunhofer IST, in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS, plans to use the Helmstedt location in order to network supra-regional initiatives and regional partners. “Our aim is to develop, in cooperation with the stakeholders, technological solutions for the challenges faced by the agricultural sector and to test them in prototype form,” explained Professor Christoph Herrmann, Institute Director of the Fraunhofer IST. “For this purpose, we are pooling the diverse expertise of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and, above all, of the regional partners. These include in particular the TU Braunschweig, the Julius Kühn Institute and the Thünen Institute.”

At the Domäne Schickelsheim, the participants were able to obtain an impression of such technological solutions and the possibilities offered by digital agriculture. The President of the Lower Saxony Chamber of Agriculture, Gerhard Schwetje, explained: “At the Domäne Schickelsheim, with just under 40 hectares, we have a PraxisLabor Digitaler Ackerbau (digital arable-farming practice laboratory) that is unique in Germany. We use the most modern digital machines and applications there under operational conditions; as a result, our experts are able collect valuable data and findings on the practical suitability of the new technologies, which have the goal, amongst other things, of making the application of fertilizers and plant-protection products even more efficient and economical. Collaboration with stakeholders from economics and science is of great importance to us – this, of course, also applies to possible practical tests involving Fraunhofer innovations.”

Within the framework of a tour, the Fraunhofer IST from Braunschweig presented a mobile system with which ozonated water for disinfection or pest control can be generated – entirely without the addition of chemicals – by means of diamond-coated electrodes. The system can be miniaturized and, for example, also integrated into a portable spraying unit.

raunhofer employees from Dresden presented a soil-density sensor from the Fraunhofer IKTS that enables the automated measurement of soils down to a depth of 2 meters. The sensors can be moved over the field, either robot-guided or with a tractor coupling, thereby providing farmers with a decision-making aid regarding the need for subsoiling, or measuring the success of soil-tillage work that has already been carried out.

The electrically driven and autonomous field robot CERES, presented by the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, has a fully automatic high-current charging system. With appropriate upgrades, the device and sensor carrier is capable of autonomously performing data acquisition and processing operations in the fields in 24/7 operation. 

The seed company Strube D&S brought along the fully electric and autonomously navigating field robot BlueBob, which was developed in collaboration with NAÏO-Technologies and the Fraunhofer Development Center X-ray Technology EZRT and is currently being produced in small series. The field robot is suitable for mechanical weed control in agriculture in the cultivation of sugar beets and other root crops.

About the Fokusreise Strukturwandel (Focus journey on structural change)

As a result of increasing digitalization as well as restructuring in the course of sustainable value creation and the associated economic, ecological and social transformation, numerous regions are facing huge economic and social challenges. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft actively supports innovation-driven structural change through networking and the structured development of new value chains. The goal is to elevate the regions affected by structural change onto a dynamic growth path through innovation-promoting measures, thereby contributing to the reduction of regional disparities. Within the framework of the “Fokusreise Strukturwandel”, from 1st to 7th November 2022, scientists from the regionally anchored institutes will demonstrate pioneering solution approaches that are suitable for providing a contribution towards future viability and innovative strength in regions affected by structural change. In collaboration with partners from economics, science and politics, the topics of security of supply, sustainable manufacturing processes, and the agricultural sector will be discussed and future technology paths will be identified.

Follow the “Fokusreise Strukturwandel” on social media, via Fraunhofer President Professor Reimund Neugebauer’s LinkedIN channel and under the hashtag #WeKnowChange.