Climate-friendly crop cultivation
Research project on closed crop production systems
Klasmann-Deilmann is carrying out a project, supported by Germany’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, on more sustainable plant production. The goal is to identify, by 2021, greenhouse systems by which emissions of heat-trapping gases derived from plant production can be lowered further, and use of water and fertiliser reduced.
This collaborative project is officially titled ‘Technical procedures for closed crop production systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change-induced abiotic stress’, or MinTHG for short. Stefanie Grade, Director Research & Development, is in charge of Klasmann-Deilmann’s part of the project.
My trainee programme at Klasmann-Deilmann Asia Pacific began in Singapore for a period of four months before I came to the company headquarters in Geeste, Germany. After about three months, I moved on to Klasmann-Deilmann Benelux in the Netherlands including a short one-week trip to France. I’m now back in Singapore again.
Question: Stefanie, what exactly is the MinTHG project about?
Stefanie Grade: The project is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in under-glass cultivation. The focus is on tomato and strawberry production. And not one but three strategically important issues are being addressed here:
- The future of commercial horticulture, which of course includes the future of Klasmann-Deilmann and of our customers;
- Our competencies in the food sector, which represents a crucial sales segment for us (and this includes sustainability aspects); and
- Our efforts to make an appreciable contribution to reducing emissions from crop production, especially, of course, with our own products.
Question: The MinTHG project is a collaborative one. So who else is involved?
Stefanie Grade: Klasmann-Deilmann jointly conceived and launched the project with several other players: the Humboldt University of Berlin (HU Berlin), measurement- and control-engineering firm RAM GmbH Mess- und Regeltechnik, and lighting company DH Licht GmbH. This project was a joint proposal made to Germany’s Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) – which green-lighted it!
Question: What is meant by ‘abiotic stress’ and to what extent is it exacerbated by climate change?
Stefanie Grade: Crops exposed to stress factors in the greenhouse during cultivation do not develop optimally. In plant production, stress may be caused by environmental factors including light, water, temperature and air humidity. In substrates, high levels of salts or incorrect pH may cause stress. Global warming, which is accelerated by GHG emissions, will influence all environmental factors. Under-glass cultivation practices must be modified in response to these changes. If GHG emissions could be reduced as well, this would be ideal.
Question: Which approaches will the MinTHG project pursue to lower GHG emissions?
Stefanie Grade: HU Berlin has spent years exploring how to minimise energy consumption in under-glass cultivation. Most greenhouses are heated using fossil energy sources, which of course result in CO2 emissions. Loss of heat through the greenhouse surface can be appreciably reduced by means of modern glazing and energy screening. One problem is air humidity. This is generally reduced by opening the ventilation, but much heat is lost this way. At HU Berlin, a novel approach is now being tested by which a water curtain reduces humidity. RAM is an expert in optimising climate control – our greenhouse in Geeste has a RAM-climate computer. And DH Licht will optimise illumination. Highly energy-efficient water-cooled LEDs are to be used.
Question: What is Klasmann-Deilmann’s role in this project?
Stefanie Grade: Our part of the project has to do with the substrate. Hydroponic cultivation of tomato crops requires about 150 m³ of rockwool per hectare, per annum. Production of 1 m³ of rockwool causes 167 kg of CO2 emissions. We’ll be substituting rockwool with renewable resources: we shall, for experimental purposes, be producing growbags with GreenFibre, hemp or Sphagnum moss, in which the tomatoes can be cultivated. Later on in the project, we want to look at strawberry crops. We will use substrates consisting entirely of alternative constituents in an area we have not previously been involved in. This ties in nicely with our strategic goal of increasing the proportion of alternative constituents to 15% of total production by 2020.
Question: Thank you, Stefanie! We wish you and your team all the best with implementing the project.
Even before its launch, the collaborative project also attracted attention from the world of politics. Germany’s federal minister for food and agriculture, Julia Klöckner, informed local MP Albert Stegemann of this success in in a personal letter. “The Klasmann-Deilmann Group is a global innovation driver in the growing-media and potting soil sector,” said CDU member Stegemann, stressing that it is, therefore, only logical to involve the Geeste-based company in the MinTHG collaborative project. “We politicians see ourselves as partners to the business community. Together we are working towards greater protection for the environment and climate, and making animal husbandry more progressive. So we are specifically encouraging projects in these areas and supporting innovative approaches in rural regions and in digitisation. We want our local companies to remain competitive into the future while also producing on a sustainable basis,” Stegemann added.
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