Alina Strickmann

A hidden champion worthy of support

Economics minister Bernd Althusmann visits Klasmann-Deilmann

Klasmann-Deilmann recently had a VIP guest: Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s minister for economic affairs, labour, transport and digitisation. He was accompanied by Reinhard Winter (the Emsland district’s chief executive officer), Bernd Carsten Hiebing (a member of the State Parliament) and Helmut Höke (mayor of the municipality of Geeste). Managing Directors Moritz Böcking and Bernd Wehming surprised the visitors with a completely new approach to restoring the Tinner Dose peatland reserve damaged by last summer’s fire.

“It may well be that our federal state can boast a hidden champion – one we need to keep a close eye on in terms of opportunities to provide support,” said Bernd Althusmann in an interview with regional newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. Klasmann-Deilmann had just presented various projects that could be a good fit with Lower Saxony’s strategy for the future, for the environment and for digitisation.

Klasmann-Deilmann’s proposal for restoring the Tinner Dose peatland reserve attracted particular attention. In the previous summer, a fire, in which a large expanse of peat turf smouldered for several weeks, caused extensive damage in the Tinner Dose bog area and caused considerable CO2 emissions. The solution currently being sought is re-wetting of the affected land. However, Moritz Böcking raised an intriguing alternative prospect: that of large-scale planting of Sphagnum peat moss. “Our highly successful Sphagnum-farming project provided us with several years of experience in this area,” Böcking explained. “With the systematic distribution of peat moss, the timeframe required for successful peatland restoration is considerably shorter. The Sphagnum typical of these bogs quickly becomes established, flora and fauna return, and absorption of gases harmful to the climate begins much earlier than with the conventional restoration measures.” Bernd Althusmann and Reinhard Winter asked the Managing Directors to make a concept paper available as soon as possible.

In this context, Klasmann-Deilmann suggested that Lower Saxony’s peatland protection legislation – adopted in the 1980s – be amended. To date, the focus of these laws has been on restoring former peat extraction sites by re-wetting. Throughout the federal state, there are several thousand hectares of degraded peatland whose restoration the state must pay for using public funds. Klasmann-Deilmann made reference to various research projects that have, in recent years, given rise to new options for the sustainable management of former commercial peatfields, and whose implementation is accelerating the achievement of environmental and climate objectives – goals that can be achieved by the private sector, thus easing the burden on the state’s budget.

The increasing use of alternative constituents such as wood fibre and green compost in growing media also met with the visitors’ approval. Moritz Böcking pointed out: “We’re at a location where we will no longer have our own peat resources in a few years’ time.” In view of this, Klasmann-Deilmann is concentrating its activities on producing renewable resources and exploring completely new materials for substrate manufacture in Geeste. In this connection, State Parliament member Bernd Carsten Hiebing thanked Klasmann-Deilmann for “keeping the innovative part of the company in the Emsland region.” Bernd Wehming and Moritz Böcking stressed that every effort is being made to pursue research and development based in Lower Saxony, and that substantial investment will be made. They added that, bearing in mind the limited scope for a company characterised by an SME culture, state-funded development of peat substitutes could expedite the phasing-out of peat use. “The federal state of Lower Saxony is at the centre of the debate on ending peat extraction,” Böcking said, “and it would be good if the decisive impetus for new raw materials, innovative growing systems or novel business models in commercial horticulture were to come from here.”

In this connection, Managing Director Bernd Wehming and Dr Sebastian Kipp, who heads the Research and Development department, presented the activities for the company’s digitisation – a field in which major advances have already been made. “Digitising business processes is leading to high efficiency gains at Klasmann-Deilmann,” Wehming remarked. “And we always have customer benefits in mind. To a large extent, we see the value of digital processes in terms of enhancing ultimate customer satisfaction still further.”

Sebastian Kipp then reported on current projects aimed at digitising commercial horticulture at an international level. In connection with the construction of the new Innovation Center, Research Center and Technikum or technical centre (due for completion in the summer of 2019), Klasmann-Deilmann is providing premises and skilled professionals who, here in Lower Saxony, can be instrumental in digitising the modern horticultural-production industry throughout the world. Joint research projects with universities, institutes, and the private sector – including start-ups – can be implemented at corporate headquarters in Geeste. One project Klasmann-Deilmann is pursuing involves the recording (manually or by sensors) and transmission of essential data generated by a nursery. This means that, in the future, specialists in Geeste will be able to remotely influence growth processes in businesses located, for example, in China or other overseas markets, and improve their productivity. Rapid exchange of data and automated crop management instructions will make this possible.

“Our vision is to be able to positively influence and control growth processes in under-glass cultivation all over the world from right here in Lower Saxony,” Moritz Böcking said. He pointed out that, especially with regard to the increasing challenges in feeding the world’s population, it was becoming more and more vital to be able to reliably ensure crop performance. “Lower Saxony could become the pioneer of advances like these – and we are thinking up the technology for this today.”

In conclusion, minister of economic affairs Bernd Althusmann noted that Lower Saxony “is, perhaps now more than ever, in the fortunate position of being able to invest in the future and support ground-breaking projects.” Before he and the other visitors left the Innovation Centre, he took time to talk with vocational trainee René Föcke, who took the minister on a quick virtual-reality tour of the company.