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Innovations for a growing challenge

Today’s diet is not good for our health or the planet. How can we be smarter about what we eat and how we produce our food?

Innovations for a growing challenge

Today’s diet is not good for our health or the planet. How can we be smarter about what we eat and how we produce our food?

In order to feed the extra billions of people predicted to be living on Earth by 2050, we have to find ways to increase the yield of available land.

World population
3 billion
7.4 billion
9.7 billion
persons per hectare arable landSources: World Bank and FAO

How can we meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population in 2050 without negative impact on the planet?

How do we increase global food production at higher yield of available land by 50 percent compared to 2013 without increasing negative impacts on the environment?

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Look into the future of precision farming

Digital technology has truly arrived in the agricultural sector. Sensors, smartphones, drones, and robots are now almost as common as muck and fertilizer on the farm. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data are helping farmers to increase yields and improve sustainability at every stage of the growing cycle from seeding to harvest. Yet farming remains a very human-centered activity, with digital technologies enabling farmers to make better informed decisions, faster.
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Catastrophic weather events such as floods and droughts threaten the livelihoods of farmers in countries like Ethiopia. Few can afford to wait for financial help delayed by lengthy post-disaster assessments. Ethiopia’s satellite system aims to provide accurate data on climate and weather, making it possible to take preplanned measures and trigger the process for insurance payouts to affected farmers early.Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute, Ethiopia Temperature, moisture and residue are all important factors for the successful germination of corn. A new device, already available in the USA, measures conditions in the seed furrow and delivers real-time data during the sowing process. This allows the farmer to make instant adjustments, for example to the seeding rate or the row cleaners, preventing crop residue from limiting the seeds’ ability to take up moisture.SmartFirmer, Precision Planting, USA and Brazil Farmers today have access to a huge amount of data. Digital farming products combine imagery data with agricultural knowledge to provide farmers with field-zone-specific recommendations on how best to manage their crops, so they can produce crops more efficiently and sustainably.xarvio™ Field Manager, BASF, worldwide A field of arable land holds an array of complex information that is not easily accessible for farmers. To gain intelligence and better understand their land and crops, in many regions of the world farmers use drones to deliver accurate information – for example, about crop numbers, size and health. Modern drones can fly autonomously covering huge areas.BirdsEyeView FireFLY6 Pro, Precision Hawk, USA Herbicide resistance is on the rise globally and traditional broadcast spraying exacerbates the problem. New machine learning technology identifies the subtle differences between plants and unwanted weeds and, if necessary, accurately applies small amounts of the right herbicide in the right spots. The new technology is currently used in weeding for cotton and soybeans in the USA.See & Spray, Blue River (acquired by John Deere), USA The harvesting of some crops, such as fruits, is a complex task that still relies on the skill of human laborers. But workforce shortages can be a challenge. A new dexterous robotic harvester with digitally steered mechanisms can pick apples from the hardest-to-reach parts of the tree with precision and care. The robot is currently being tested with apple growers in New Zealand.Robotic apple harvester, Abundant Robotics, USA Monitoring the health of an entire dairy herd is a difficult task. A health issue that requires medical attention can pass unnoticed. Ear tags fitted with sensors precisely monitor a cow’s ear movements, which show characteristic rumination patterns, delivering accurate information on a cow’s state of health. The system identifies health issues, and alerts allow for early treatment.Smartbow, Zoetis, USA For some farmers, the cost of farm equipment is prohibitively high. For others, unused equipment is an idle resource. An online platform connects farmers in Africa who are seeking and offering local farming equipment for hire. The service is also available to manufacturers. Production machinery, tractors and other equipment is listed, processed and paid for via the platform, and can be booked by mobile phone.Agrishare, Welthungerhilfe (German private aid organization), Zimbabwe Grain is stored in a silo until it is sold. Between farm and fork, agricultural products change hands many times. Using a blockchain, an immutable ledger, for these transactions brings greater transparency and traceability. The blockchain records the quality and quantity, thus preventing fraud, while smart contracts speed up payment to the farmer.AgriDigital pilot with Fletcher International Exports, Australia

Grow more. Sustainably.

The challenge to grow more on existing farmland without negative impacts on the environment is known as “sustainable intensification”. There are many ways to achieve it. But what works in the USA might not be relevant in Malawi.

Grow more. Sustainably.

The challenge to grow more on existing farmland without negative impacts on the environment is known as “sustainable intensification”. There are many ways to achieve it. But what works in the USA might not be relevant in Malawi.

All farmers have the same basic resources: soil, seeds, water, crops and livestock

As well as being more productive and more sustainable, growing food also has to make good business sense. Farmers have a vested interest in increasing yields without depleting their finite resources. They will therefore adopt innovative tools and techniques that can help them to do so.

Farmers are the best entrepreneurs. They are keen on applying the right solutions. Whether it’s about soil, seeds, crops or livestock, innovation is essential if we are to make the most of our limited resources.”

Julia Harnal

Vice President Sustainability at BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division, Limburgerhof, Germany

At a glance

A growing global population with a growing need of food supply requires a rebound of farming procedures that are more environmentally friendly.

BASF is one of the leading drivers to develop innovative technologies for the sustainable intensification in the farming industry.

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Issue #9

Creating Chemistry Magazine 2020

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About Creating Chemistry

Products and solutions based on chemistry enrich our lives every day. They help to conserve resources, to produce healthy food and to improve people’s quality of life.

But chemistry’s contribution is often not easy to see at first glance. With BASF’s magazine Creating Chemistry, we aim to show how chemistry helps to meet global challenges.

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What is Sustainable Agriculture?


Sustainable agriculture means meeting our needs today in a way that leaves it possible for future generations to meet theirs. That involves providing enough safe and nutritious food for a growing population at an affordable price and in a way that is profitable for farmers with as little as possible negative impact on the environment.


There are different ways to reach that balance, from organic to sustainably intensified agriculture. All sustainable farming systems ought to provide farmers with a full toolbox of innovative technologies, solutions and know-how to enable them to continue producing the food society needs, in a way that is safe for the farmer, safe for the environment and safe for the consumer.

“It is all about increasing agricultural productivity through the efficient use of scarce resources,” says Julia Harnal, Vice President Sustainability at BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division, Limburgerhof, Germany. “To do this, we need as many tools as possible. With innovative seeds and crop protection products, together with new digital technologies, we can grow more food on less land with less water and other inputs. That is my definition of sustainable agriculture.”


Even with the best seeds, all crops still need managing, especially against pests and diseases.

Beetle banks

On Freestone’s farm in England, a biological form of pest control – beetle banks – has shown good results. “For larger fields, we create a ridge of soil in the middle that provides habitat and food for insects, spiders and birds. These natural predators help to control pests in the crop,” Freestone says.

Encouraging natural predators is one part of Integrated Pest Management, a practice based on using a variety of pest-control methods and techniques, enabling farmers to use the best available options to balance high yield and low environmental impact.

"Push-pull" techniques

In Africa, to combat fall armyworm, some farmers are using push-pull techniques. This means intercropping maize with a plant that repels the pest, while planting a border of another species that attracts and traps them. This is a low-input approach, but it requires time.

Crop protection products

Crop protection products therefore still have a place in the toolbox. Today they have to comply with increasingly stringent regulations. “The active ingredient has to be poisonous for the pest while being more or less harmless to everything else,” says Harnal. BASF’s new fungicide Revysol® has been developed with these requirements in mind.


65 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the global livestock sector are caused by cattle.

Cow Livestock 1

Using better feeds can reduce methane generated during digestion.

Livestock Cow 2

Researchers at the University of California, USA, have found that cattle feed containing 1 percent of seaweed cuts methane production by up to 60 percent.

Livestock chicken

For other animals, such as chicken, pigs and fish, the use of insects as feed is promising. Insects can be raised efficiently on waste matter and are high in protein.

Trials have produced positive results; the challenge is to scale up production to make it competitive.