Achim Walter has been Professor of Crop Science at ETH Zürich, Switzerland since 2010. He is member of scientific advisory boards of several national and international agricultural research institutions. Achim Walter holds diploma degrees in Physics and in Biology and spent parts of his postdoctoral career at Biosphere 2 Center in the US and at Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany.
He has 20 years of experience in developing imaging-based solutions for plant growth analysis and in developing indoor as well as outdoor plant phenotyping facilities. Current research foci of his group are phenotyping for wheat breeding and the use of imaging technologies to improve sustainability of agriculture.
Digitalization and Sustainability: The role of technology
Agriculture is the foundation of our culture and of our societies. We have co-evolved with our food and the way how to produce this food needs to be further evolving under the pressure of global climate change, loss of biodiversity, changing diets and increasing population. Digital technologies will play a crucial role during this transformation process. Improving crop management along the lines of precision agriculture will be an important task for many specific challenges: Apply products only at the right time, in the right place and at the right quantity. Improve decision support via cameras, sensors and intelligent data processing.
Imaging technologies and artificial-intelligence-based data evaluation will also be important for crop breeding: Establish cultivars that are optimally aligned with the climatic conditions and that show enough resilience to sustain yield also in exceptional years. Also here, so-called ‘phenotyping technologies’ will advance the field. Yet, most rapid progress with respect to increasing the sustainability of agriculture is to be expected, if current measures of ‘good agricultural practice’ are boosted by the novel technology; if farmers and authorities are tightly involved in a true dialogue, how agriculture can evolve in their region and for their crops and cropping systems.
This statement does not only hold true for crop production in industrialized countries, but even more for crop production in developing countries. There, issues of poverty, political instability, land degradation and hunger are far more pressing than in countries that can drive the often claimed ‘disruptive change’ towards ‘smart’ farming systems.