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Interview: Prof. Dr. Frank Ewert, Scientific Director of ZALF

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​​​​​​​​​​​Climate change, food security, sustainability - Solving the challenges of the future at the landscape level​​​

Mr Ewert, you can look back on over 25 years of research experience in agricultural science, specifically in Plant Cultivation and Mathematical Modelling. What aroused your curiosity for this discipline?

I grew up on a farm and became interested in the diversity of agricultural production systems at an early age. My scientific interest started with my studies in university. Through modelling, I finally saw an opportunity, depending on the question, to reduce complex relationships to their essentials.

With stations in the south of England, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as guest visits to New Zealand, Japan and Australia, you are internationally very experienced. What brought you to Brandenburg and ZALF?

Interdisciplinary cooperation is extremely important when answering the great questions of our time. What influence do agricultural systems have on climate change? How can we feed a growing world population while at the same time ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources? What opportunities do technological developments offer for the design of agricultural landscapes? These are but a few of the challenges to which, due to their complexity, we can only develop solutions through the close collaboration between different disciplines. ZALF offers excellent opportunities for this interdisciplinary cooperation.

Are bits and bytes the way to the agriculture of the future?

Interdisciplinarity and digitization are two sides of the same coin at ZALF. Work has already been done here for a long time with large and comprehensive quantities of data on the most diverse aspects of the landscape. Progressive digitization and developments in the field of »Big Data« are opening up completely new opportunities for us: In addition to our experiments in the laboratory, in climatic chambers or on our 150 hectare research station, we generate comprehensive data which we use, among other things, for computer-aided modelling. In this way we can explain interactions between individual processes right up to the landscape level. This leads us to new approaches in the development of agricultural landscapes of the future.​​

And what are the benefits of the results of your research?

On the basis of our models and data, we develop specific instruments, with which actors in agriculture, in policymaking and consultation among others, can sustainably manage both economically and environmentally, or can implement such management institutionally. Our spectrum here is very broad, ranging from land use strategies adapted to climate change, for example in Brazil and India, up to specific technical solutions, for example for the implementation of environmental and nature conservation measures in our local agricultural sector.

What is the largest and from your point of view the most urgent challenge in agricultural landscape research?

​​​​​​​​​We are particularly concerned with the question of how to react to the consequences of global population growth, the increasing scarcity of natural resources, as well as climate change. Food security on the one hand and the sustainable use of natural resources and our environment on the other: these have to be balanced.​​


Prof. Dr. Frank A. Ewert
has been Scientific Director of ZALF since 1st March 2016. The focus of his work is in the fields of Crop Science and Mathematical Modelling with reference to Agricultural System Research.


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