• Germany edition
 

Driverless tractors till German high-tech farm

Published: 21 Jul 2013 09:01 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Jul 2013 09:01 GMT+02:00

But these tractors are steel monsters with a difference - driverless and satellite-guided, they can operate on the fields with an accuracy of a few centimetres.

Impervious to fatigue and indifferent to poor visibility, they reduce distances travelled by each vehicle, saving their owner fuel costs and improving crop yields.

Münchhoff converted his farm in Derenburg, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, a decade ago following a high-tech trend that is drawing growing interest.

"My job now is management," he says.

With a grey beard and thin glasses, the robust 60-year-old reigns over a 1,000 hectare farm that grows wheat and rapeseed, continuing a long family tradition.

The Münchhoffs have tilled this land for nearly 200 years.

However, his work has changed radically since he turned to "precision agriculture", which started in the United States in the 1980s and employs cutting-edge technologies to separately manage each plot rather than uniformly treat an entire field.

Besides the GPS-guided tractors, Münchhoff has set up optical sensors that can measure the nutritional status of plots and scanners that assess a plot's soil composition, thus reducing fertiliser consumption.

There is an ecological aspect, but the main focus is economic.

In six years, the farmer says he has saved nearly €150,000 ($200,000) by reducing the use of phosphorus and potassium - a significant advantage amid wild swings in commodity prices.

"Twenty years ago, for a field of 100 hectares, we needed 10 tonnes of phosphorus. Today, we need two to five tonnes," said Münchhoff.

On his computer, he scrolls through charts, tables, digital maps and satellite photos, which are now essential tools.

For now, he is still a pioneer.

"Of 280,000 farms in Germany, between 800 and 1,000 use optical sensors," he says.

However, precision agriculture may have bumper times ahead.

"It offers enormous productivity gains and allows for a reduction of resource use at a time of growing environmental regulatory demands," said Oliver Neumann, spokesman for agricultural equipment giant John Deere.

A problem is that the equipment still doesn't come cheap. Some high-tech combine harvesters can cost up to half a million euros.

But "with increasing use, prices should come down for small-scale users," said Neumann.

Münchhoff said that "even small operations are already using these technologies. They can get together with neighbours and become as profitable as large farms."

These innovations are feeding hopes of overcoming the challenge of exploding global food needs expected in future.

They also offer new opportunities for the agricultural sector, including a demand for more skilled workers, and promise new avenues for business development, especially in software, smartphones or even drones.

Will the machines take over the farm one day?

"I don't see that happening," said Münchhoff, who employs six staff. "They facilitate the work, that's all. They don't make decisions. I make the decisions."

The Local/AFP/pvs

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims
Floral tributes were laid on Tuesday at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Glass memorial honours Nazi disabled victims

A 24-metre blue glass wall in Berlin has been unveiled to commemorate the systematic murder of up to 300,000 mentally ill and disabled people under Adolf Hitler. READ  

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees
Migrants aboard an Italian navy patrol vessel in April 2014. Photo: DPA

Germany to help with Mediterranean refugees

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Tuesday pledged support for his Italian colleague in the struggle to manage refugees trying to reach the European Union via its southern coast. READ  

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week
Elephant Nelly takes part in the ice bucket challenge in a Lower Saxony safari park. Photo: DPA

Ice bucket challenge raises €500,000 in a week

The coffers of the German Society for Muscular Disease (DGM) are overflowing with donations thanks to the viral craze for videos of donors dousing themselves with ice-cold water. READ  

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict
The GRIAT will open in the Russian city of Kazan. Photo: Shutterstock

Russian-German school opens in teeth of conflict

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is pressing ahead with its German-Russian Institute of Advanced Technologies (GRIAT) against a backdrop of international tensions over Ukraine. READ  

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw
Photo: DPA

Schweinsteiger is new Germany captain: Löw

Bastian Schweinsteiger will replace fellow Bayern Munich player Philipp Lahm as captain of the German national football team, head trainer Joachim Löw said on Tuesday. READ  

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'
Christine Haderthauer at her resignation press conference in Munich on Monday. Photo: DPA

Munich minister resigns in 'model car scandal'

Christine Haderthauer, head of the Bavarian state chancery, resigned “with immediate effect” on Monday evening over the so-called “model car scandal” in which her company sold scale models built by a man convicted of three sexual murders. READ  

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck
President Gauck stands shoulder to shoulder with President Komorowski of Poland in Gdansk on Monday. Photo: DPA

Russia 'severed' from Europe: President Gauck

Russia has "effectively severed its partnership" with Europe and wants to establish a new order, German President Joachim Gauck said on Monday. READ  

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis
Taxis are a powerful trade lobby in Germany. Photo: DPA

National Uber ban is revenge of the taxis

The Frankfurt regional court has imposed a temporary nationwide ban on chauffeur car service Uber, saying that it must pay a €250,000 fine if passengers continue to book rides through its app. READ  

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa
The facade of the Bad Reichenhall Royal Spa Hotel.

Sex party 'desecrates' Bavarian royal spa

The Bavarian finance ministry has demanded a report from the company running a publicly-owned spa in the town of Bad Reichenhall after they rented the property out for a fetish party. READ  

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs
Angela Merkel addressing the Bundestag on Monday as her ministers look on. Photo: DPA

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag on Monday to explain her government's decision to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting terrorist group Isis. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten of the oddest things found by German border control
Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners/Tegel Projekt GmbH/J. Mayer
Berlin
How will Berlin look in five years' time?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The best of Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit in 14 pictures
Photo: DPA
Politics
Germany sends burgers and sausages to Kurds
Photo: Matthias Kock
National
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Photo: DPA
Gallery
10 things to do before summer in Germany is really over
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,412
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd