• 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ex-boss of farcical Berlin Airport gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of farcical Berlin Airport gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Kurds watching the attack on Kobane. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to bring possible poison gas use by Isis in Iraq before the Security Council. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

Spring back in German consumers' step?
Photo: DPA

Spring back in German consumers' step?

Consumer confidence in Germany has stopped falling, as households appear to be no longer fazed by concerns about the economic fallout from geopolitical crises, a new poll found on Friday. READ  

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 26
An eyewitness captured the moment of the explosion on their phone. Photo: DPA

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 26

UPDATE: One person has died and 26 others are injured after a huge explosion in Ludwigshafen, western Germany on Thursday. READ  

Germany has just ten Ebola beds
Photo: DPA

Germany has just ten Ebola beds

Doctors at high-level infectious disease clinics say that caring for patients with the Ebola virus is much more intensive than they first thought, meaning they can handle fewer cases at once. READ  

Refugee Crisis
Now Berlin turns to tents to house refugees
A refugee protests on the roof of the former Gerhart Hauptmann School in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Now Berlin turns to tents to house refugees

Berlin has turned to huge tents and shipping containers to shelter growing numbers of refugees. With winter approaching, city politicians have called on the federal government for help. READ  

Clueless Merkel forgets the F-word
Merkel suffers from Wortfindungsstörung at the IT summit in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Clueless Merkel forgets the F-word

Angela Merkel's government is often criticized for its lack of understanding of all things digital and an appearance by the chancellor in Hamburg, which was supposed to change those perceptions, has only made things worse. READ  

Greenpeace finds danger in kids clothes
Photo: DPA

Greenpeace finds danger in kids clothes

Research released on Thursday by environmental group Greenpeace showed that more than half of clothing sold by German discount brands contain chemicals known to be dangerous to health and the environment, with items from Aldi being the worst offenders. READ  

Woman sues for accidental pot raid
Photo: DPA

Woman sues for accidental pot raid

A Bavarian woman is suing police for unlawful search after a reported break-in at her home led authorities to discover 158 cannabis plants in her basement. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
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

3,526
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd