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HORSCH Seminar 2020

The future is near (Jay Tuck)

The original plan had been that Jay Tuck, security expert and journalist, holds his speech with the topic ”The future is closer than ever before – the revolution of artificial intelligence“ on the eve of the HORSCH seminar. There was a live stream on Facebook instead.

Online instead of on site

Special situations require special measures. It was a hard decision for the organisers to cancel the HORSCH Seminar 2020. Everything had already been prepared and about 700 guests had been looking forward to participating. In retrospect, the decision turned out to be the right one. The risk of spreading the virus among so many people from all over the world would have been too great. As a compensation there was a live stream of two speeches on Facebook. We summarised them for terraHORSCH.

Shifting of appreciation

Jay Tuck started his speech with a short clip from the movie “Top Gun 2“ the German cinema release of which was scheduled for July 2020. Extensive action scenes are to show impressively with how much high-tech war is made today. “For real navy pilots, however, this is water under the bridge”, Jay Tuck said. “But it is significant that a heroic “top gun”, e.g. a top pilot, played by Tom Cruise takes centre stage. However: this kind of man has already become obsolete. Today, in the US Air Force the future are not the manned planes, but unmanned drones. You can fly halfway around the globe with them. They are controlled by young kids. The selection criterion is how well they can play with a play station. They are located in containers at a secret site in New Mexico and kill people in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and a lot of other countries we do not even know. And the drone technology is not even new, but already 20 years old. And just think back what your mobile phone has been like 20 years ago.

About Jay Tuck

Jay Tuck was born and grew up in the United States. His civilian service led the graduated economist and acknowledged conscientious objector to Germany. In Hamburg, he worked with adolescents. He started his TV journalist career as a local journalist for the NDR, later as an investigative journalist for the programmes Panorama and Monitor. During the two gulf wars he was on site as a reporter for the ARD news programme Tagesschau and after that he headed the ARD news programme Tagesthemen as the responsible editor. Moreover, he produced a lot of documentaries for respected TV stations. Since his retirement at the ARD Jay Tuck has been working for an international media company in Dubai, but continues to produce documentaries for German TV stations. He worked – and still works - as an author for numerous print magazines, writes books, holds speeches, mostly as the keynote speaker.
His focus is on security topics. His current book “Evolution without us” was published in 2016 by Plassen. The book is about artificial intelligence.

I was once allowed to navigate such drones in a simulator“, Jay Tuck continued. “It was very exciting. They have so many advantages compared to manned planes. We human beings have so many weaknesses: We need oxygen, a certain atmospheric pressure, qualifications and advanced training, a pilot’s licence – all this costs money. In the jet, there has to be an ejection seat for emergencies which is heavy and reduces the payload. It would be best to remove this weak point from the fighter jet. This, too, already has become reality. It often is a robot that flies. It is always in top form. It did not quarrel with its wife or has a hangover because it drank too much the day before – all human weaknesses are eliminated. And: we do not put human beings in jeopardy when the aircrafts are flying in war zones! The interesting part of this development is: At the end of their training, the navy pilots are awarded a flying batch they are extremely proud of. But the play station kids also get this award. Although they actually do not know how to fly at all. And this is what really infuriates the pilots“

Time to adapt

“When new technologies are introduced there always is a certain delay between the invention and the nationwide launch“, Jay Tuck explained. “This was already the case with Guttenberg: It took hundreds of years before people really started to read and before books spread everywhere. Society had time to get used to the innovations. Or take the steam engine: There were decades between its invention and the technical revolution with locomotives as a means of transport and the industrial series production which it finally caused. At that time, too, there were people who were against these new things. They even went into the factories and destroyed the machines. For they correctly assumed that the steam engines would jeopardise their job. But even then, we had time to get used to it. There were discussions with the most different groups, like the trade unions etc.
All that can be quantified: From the introduction until the time when there were 50 million users it took 62 years for the car, 46 years for electrical power, 12 years for the mobile phone, 4 years for Facebook and only 19 days for Pokémon Go. That’s the window society with its legislation, its idea of morality and the working conditions needed to adapt to these innovations. I am not surprised that there still are so many people who have not got used to their smartphone. That some older people do not understand at all what their grandchildren do with it. They simply did not have the time to understand. Because everything happens so fast.
An example: I was at the dentist the other day. When I sat on the chair, I suddenly heard a beep. When I asked what it was, she said: “It’s a robot that measures the gap. It then calculates the implant, I only have to choose material and colour. An hour later the implant is ready“
Before something like this took weeks. With the new technology a complete branch of industry ceases to exist. And the machine is not only faster, my dentist told me, but also more precise and cheaper. This again confirms: Someone invents a machine and the world changes. Sometimes the introduction of innovation is slowed down, for example when approval procedures including testing, pre-testing etc. are required like for medicines. Keyword: Corona. For other things that partly also cause radical changes no such procedures are required. They simply are launched and here we go. And it changes our lives“

Already reality

According to Jay Tuck the reason why people have difficulties in dealing with the topic artificial intelligence is that it does not develop linearly, but exponentially. “We cannot grasp it“, the journalist says. “This is the reason why we do not understand the consequences.” In his opinion we already are right in the middle of it. In some sectors artificial intelligence already got ahead of us and is head and shoulders above man.
An example: When he was a teenager, Tuck wanted to become a stockbroker. Like the professions that were already mentioned above, pilot or doctor/dentist, it is a stressful, but respected and well-paid job. At that time, the largest bank in the world employed about 600 stockbrokers. Today there are two, if any! The work is done by computers that observe the most different things all over the world und extrapolate the consequences on the stock exchange prices. At the beginning there, of course, were mistakes that had serious consequences, but it is the main characteristic of artificial intelligence that it continues to learn.
The positive effects are already noticeable. “I talked to radiologists of well-respected hospitals. They all confirmed that the computer is able to detect cancer on X-rays more exactly and at a much earlier stage than they themselves can do it. On the one hand, this, of course, is a confession of failure, but on the other hand it is an enormous opportunity. The same is true for a lot of other illnesses - Alzheimer‘s, heart attacks. So far, the findings of the medical sector have been based on relatively limited experiences. With Big Data a large number of random samples and the connection of the most different factors can be analysed in a correlating way. An international standard still has to be created – this is labour-intensive and expensive, but as soon as this has been accomplished, we will be able to advance in a way we can hardly imagine today.”
Jay Tuck also made a little detour to the sector of safety technology. He showed an aerial photo of the NSA that was taken by a drone at a height of 20,000 m. On the photo you can see cars and people. And you can identify both. The cars due to their licence plates and the people due to their walk. “People always think that identification can only be made via the face”, Tuck explains. “Intelligence services however mainly work with cameras from above. It is even possible to analyse if someone moves in a suspicious way.” The age of expertise is replaced by the age of data.
In the agricultural sector the collection of data has been starting more slowly. But the farmers, too, already use certain technologies like the facial recognition of cows. It works better than with earmarks. For pigs, it is even possible to scan their emotional state.
“Today, people want to know where their food comes from”, Jay Tuck said. “The stamp on the eggs showing their origin is only the beginning. I myself took part in a project where a good deal more data was gathered, starting with the genetics of the laying hens via the food until virtually to the frying pan. This does not only create transparency. It can also contribute to make the own business more profitable. Or selective plant protection which partly is already practised. It allows for saving hundreds of tons of plant protection agents – this is what people clearly require from the farming sector.” Jay Tuck showed some videos of autonomously driven tractors and commented: “Nothing special. But being a TV journalist, I like the beautiful pictures. You can contribute to make the profession of a farmer interesting again. For farming is not only about dirty wellingtons. Every entrepreneur, including the farmer, has to learn to deal with Big Data. It can make the difference between life and death of his farm.“
But what about the security of the data? Tuck mentioned the mobile phone as an example. Every mobile phone user already discloses a good deal of data. Though the system providers promise that the data is safe, the apps extract data. This can be 1.5 GB per month! The most sensitive data are the search keys. Online businesses use such user profiles to individualise prices.
“Does artificial intelligence have an awareness? Can it feel?“ At the end of his speech Jay Tuck asked these crucial questions. “We don’t know yet. But it has the will to live and it defends its existence. This was quite obvious for example when an American satellite at the end of its service life was led into the earth’s atmosphere to burn up. Even during its “death struggle“ it still fulfilled its most important function: to orient its antennae so that it still was able to keep up the contact with the Earth. By the way, when it burned up, the people in the flight control centre who were in charge for it for a long time cried“


More humus in the soil (Michael Horsch)

Michael Horsch, too, held his speech for the HORSCH seminar online. His topic was “Formation of humus as an interesting rotation element for farmers“. In Horsch’s opinion this could be a new business model for the farming sector.

For Michael Horsch hybrid farming, regenerative farming and carbon farming are fundamental topics, even in the discussions about climate protection. The company has already been working for quite a long time on solutions for sustainable farming – the current project is the ideas competition “Soil Forge“. In co-operation with the university Weihenstephan-Triesdorf and Farm & Food they are looking for ideas and concepts of farmers, start-ups and students with regard to new cultivation systems, business models and technologies (bodenschmiede.horsch.com).

Michael Horsch started his speech with a statement of Herbert Diess, the chairman of VW, about the CO2 tax in Europe: “100 Euro is a fair price for one ton of CO2.” At the end of last year, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat fixed a price of just about 25 Euro. Horsch had a conversation about this topic with employees of the Skoda plant near the HORSCH farm AgroVation in Kněžmost in the Czech Republic. “They calculated what the carbon footprint in the “life cycle” of a car consists of. The figures were very interesting”. They estimated 200,000 km for the life of a car. 13 % of the footprint are caused by the material production at the suppliers’. Only 2 % are produced in the three Skoda plants in the Czech Republic. A total of 80 % results from the combustion of petrol and diesel, 5 % from the recycling of the old cars. “For the 2 % alone that are produced in the plant itself, Skoda uses 700,000 tons of woodchips per year“, the entrepreneur emphasised. This corresponds to a forest area of 100,000 hectares that has to be thinned. The conversion to battery-operated cars will, of course, mean an enormous progress with regard to the CO2 consumption.

Car companies under pressure

To arouse the business sense of the farmers, Michael Horsch then took a look at the costs for CO2 emissions the automotive industry will have to face. “The Skoda employees gave me an idea of the pressure the car manufacturers have to put up with“, he said. As of 2020 the following regulation applies in Europe: Every car sold with a combustion engine may only emit a maximum of 95 g CO2 per km. Every additional gramme entails a fine of 95 Euro. “At the moment the Skoda cars are emitting an average of 120 g. Thus, the fine currently amounts to 2,375 Euro per car. This means that about 10% of the sales value have to be paid for each car.” The manufacturers, thus, make every effort to comply with the limit value resp. to sell a sufficient number of electric cars. In Skoda’s case about 20 % of the new cars would have to consist of electric cars. “The pressure is enormous”, Michael Horsch pointed out.
CO2 is also created when producing electric cars, to be specific 16t per car – even with the most efficient and most up-to-date production methods. “Skoda wants to neutralise this sum right from the start when selling the car“, Michael Horsch said. “According to Diess’s statement this would amount to 1,600 Euro per car that have to be included in the manufacturing price. With an annual production of 300,000 cars the resulting sum is quite considerable. The manufacturer can no longer reduce this part of the CO2 footprint by savings. You can only eliminate it by buying your way out, like the selling of indulgences”, Horsch summarised.

CO2 compensation by forest or humus?

What can the compensation of CO2 emissions look like in practice? “The first proposal often is to plant trees on a large scale. But we then would have to wait several years before the newly reforested trees are able to capture one ton of CO2”, Michael Horsch stated. “Until the plants capture enough CO2 from the air, the climate will have collapsed long ago, the so-called tipping point will have been exceeded.” He cannot understand that scientists and NGOs want to argue credibly that planting trees will be an adequate solution. You can capture a certain part of the greenhouse gas this way, but it surely will not be the ultimate solution. “Moreover, we cannot use the reforested areas for farming. Und this would be absolutely essential from an economic point of view.”
Michael Horsch presented the second approach for CO2 compensation which in his opinion is significantly more important: ”We farm, we increase the humus share and in this context also produce food. Three prerequisites are important: reduce tillage considerably, include catch crops and encourage microbial activity holistically. To cultivate the soil in a targeted way means that not too much oxygen may get into the horizons to avoid an excess of mineralisation. An intensive consolidation to control the gas exchange is indispensable. If necessary, a plough may still be useful. By means of catch crops the soil should always be kept green. Thus, we have a good chance to build up net carbon in the soil, even long-term. To encourage microbial activity, you have to reduce the use of fertiliser and plant protection agents in the long run. With regard to this topic I want to be as factual as possible and this is why I express myself carefully. We are still learning a lot. One thing is clear: we absolutely need microbial activity in the soil to build up humus.”
Michael Horsch continued: ”With hybrid farming we are able to capture an equivalent of 5 to 10 tons of CO2 per year and hectare in the soil by building up humus. If you now remember Herbert Diess’s statement with 100 Euro per CO2 equivalent, the value of the work that is connected with building up humus would correspond to an amount between to 500 to 1,000 Euro per Hectare.”

Nutrient and permanent humus

To deal more intensely with this topic it is important to differentiate between nutrient and permanent humus. “Soil scientists should not listen too carefully now“, Michael Horsch pointed out smiling. According to his experience the opinions of the scientists differ quite a lot. “This is my point of view: In my opinion nutrient humus is an open humus chain and I will now use the example of straw residues in the soil after the wheat harvest to describe the respective processes.” The C/N-ratio of straw first amounts to 80 to 100:1. Tillage encourages the degradation process, after six to eight months most of the organic matter has degraded. The ratio then amounts to about 10:1. “At first, this nutrient humus remains in the soil. In appropriate conditions the microorganisms continue to degrade the carbon and thus produce CO2. Even nutrients like N, P and K that are linked to the carbon are released in the course of the mineralisation in summer. I then cultivate the field again. The biomass of the following crop, too, starts to degrade after the harvest. New nutrient humus is built up.“
To increase the share of nutrient humus, the biomass yield has to be increased. “But it might be difficult to promote this approach with regard to the selling of indulgences. Therefore, we have to focus on the permanent humus.“ According to Horsch it consists of annular carbon chains where nutrients are adsorbed during the degradation process. A lot of these rings cannot degrade the microorganisms any further. The advantage from an agronomic point of view is obvious: increase of the humus content in the soil and optimum storage capacities for valuable nutrients and water.

Microbial carbonisation

But how can you manage to increase permanent humus by farming? “I found a very interesting article about this topic that really fascinates me“, Michael Horsch stated enthusiastically. “That’s microbial carbonisation, in short MC. I learned a lot about it from Walter Witte, a respected soil chemist. What is it about? It is a bacterial composting in a simple process. You merge cellulosic and lignin-containing organic matter with albumin compounds in a 50:50 ratio. The appropriate mixing ratio is important as well as enough humidity and the corresponding size of the particles so that the mass can be compacted in an optimum way. You then have to create a compost surface that is as large as possible and well compacted, the height of the pile should amount to approx. 2.5 m”. The temperature in the compost should be around 50°C. Thus, a border situation between aerobic and anaerobic conditions is created. Only in these conditions, carbonisation can take place on a bacterial basis – not to be confused with the process of the same name that takes place under high pressure. “Now phototrophic bacteria that live on the surface create enzymes. They in turn encourage other bacteria to degrade organic matter so that at the end a lot of annular carbon chains remain that cannot degraded any further“, he summarised the processes. Important for farmers: The carbon compounds are water-soluble and contain a lot of nutrients from the original material. Moreover, during the microbial carbonisation carbon is not ”burnt“, i.e. hardly any CO2, but a high concentration of C in the compost is created.

Carbonisation on the fields?

“Nature provided for mechanisms which we have not yet paid enough attention to“, Michael Horsch noticed enthusiastically. The water-soluble carbon rings can be spread on the field. They will then be washed in by rain. The farmers wouldn’t even have to incorporate them. To make sure the crops can absorb the nutrients, nature again offers an ingenious solution: the roots of the plants segregate acids to separate these nutrients from the organic matter.
For Michael Horsch the question is: ”Are we able to encourage microbial carbonisation on our fields – by shallow tillage with incorporation, pressing? I cannot yet answer this question. But it really fascinates me!“ You could possibly proceed like this with liquid manure.
“It is a fact that we need a high microbial activity in the soil“, he again summarised his statements. “We can no longer generate considerable yield increases for our main crops. Thus, the maximum possible amount of nutrient humus on our fields has been reached. In my opinion, catch crops are a good option to encourage the formation of humus.“

Residue analysis

According to Michael Horsch building up humus and reducing residues are directly connected. This is why during his speech he also talked about the residue issue. ”We carried out our own tests with regard to this topic – together with a start-up from Würzburg who are experts in the field of data evaluation and the university in Triesdorf. We took 371 soil samples on wheat fields of 46 customer farms in Germany and the Czech Republic and analysed them. Data from the respective acreage index of the past years were also added.”
Horsch summarised the results of these analyses: ”In a lot of samples we found traces of fungicides, insecticides and  of the growth regulator CCC. Herbicides were not among them. What society currently criticises again and again apparently was not the problem in this case.” His conclusion of the results was: “The glyphosate hysteria is completely exaggerated. We should discuss the topic objectively and in a differentiated way – and with all parties concerned. The solution will not be to radically insist on a ban.” With regard to the topic humus one thing is for sure: ”If we have to do without glyphosate, it will become significantly more difficult to implement the ideas of humus formation and regenerative farming.”

Replace insecticides and fungicides

Alternatives to insecticides and fungicides are already tested in practice and used on larger farms. Michael Horsch talked about an example from Brazil: ”During my last visit the farm manager of the 200,000 hectare farm Insolo – by the way the owner is the American Harvard University – proudly showed me a new building that was built five years ago. It contains huge fermenters, microbiologists work there and there is their own test station. Now the farm is ready to replace plant protection agents by biology. And this is even more astonishing when you think of the frequency of applications that is common in Brazil”, Horsch added. “I hold such people in high esteem. They are professionals and it shows: There is something happening we HAVE to deal with. Even if I do not believe that we can completely replace insecticides and fungicides by biological agents. In either case, there is something to these procedures.“ However, it will not be possible to replace herbicides by biological agents. “For no-till farming we will still need agents like glyphosate.“ 

Liebig equation rearranged

At the end of his speech Michael Horsch referred to a quotation of the chemist Justus von Liebig: ”A soil is fertile for a certain plant genus if it contains the nutrients required by this plant – in the appropriate quantity, in the correct proportion and in a condition that is appropriate for absorption.” Von Liebig assumed that the plant and humus yields result from the nutrient supply, i.e. the chemistry, marked by physical conditions like temperature and humidity as well as by biological conditions. “I am fascinated by the term „ appropriate quantity“, Horsch declared. In the past 50 years farming was carried out according to the Liebig equation and yields were achieved the chemists could only dream of. “At most, we managed to keep the humus content on a certain level. But there also are quite a lot of analyses according to which we contributed to a constant degradation of certain amounts of humus while our yields increased. “
To farm according to carbon farming, regenerative farming or hybrid farming, the Liebig equation has to be rephrased. Building up humus, i.e. biology, should rank first, followed by physics and chemistry. Yield and the humus content in the soil will result from this interrelation. “I dare to say the following: This equation is the future of modern farming all over the world.” In his opinion another continuous yield increase compared to today’s level will no longer be possible. “Neither should this be our ultimate objective. But this will be the way to build up permanent humus”, Michael Horsch predicted. He assumes that 5 t of CO2 might be captured per hectare and year, it might even be possible to achieve twice this amount. The latter, however, will only be possible if you focus less on yield, but more on building up humus. His final summary was: ”We have to change our course of action – from breeding to the handling of fertiliser and plant protection. There still is a lot of research work to do. We need more insights into the biological interrelations in the soil, in the root, in the whole plant and finally also in the human beings.“