Fraunhofer Lighthouse Project “Cognitive Agriculture”:

Balancing productivity and sustainability of agricultural processes

Press Releases /

Finding the right balance between sustainability and productivity is one of the goals of the United Nations‘ Agenda 2030 for worldwide “Food Security and Sustainable Agricul-ture”. This is in line with the new lighthouse project “Cognitive Agriculture“ of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, which aims at achieving a more efficient and at the same time more sustainable agriculture based on the comprehensive use of digital technologies. In this lighthouse project, eight Fraunhofer Institutes under the leadership of the Fraunho-fer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern are jointly working on solutions for producing agricultural products in an environmentally friendly, resource-saving, and at the same time highly efficient manner. On 14 November 2018, the project was launched officially at the Fraunhofer-Forum in Berlin in the presence of representatives from research, industry, government, and the press.

Industrialization has had a major impact on agricultural technology in recent decades, not only increasing productivity, but also causing negative effects: soil compaction, intensive fertilization, excessive use of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, or various types of genetically manipulated seedlings lead to permanent damage to the biosphere. Organic agriculture has evolved as an alternative; however, it deliberately accepts productivity losses. In the Fraunhofer lighthouse project “Cognitive Agriculture”, we will study what a networked ecosystem for agricultural processes must look like that can help to optimize both the economic and the ecological aspects in equal measure.

“Agricultural technology is not only a branch of industry that is essential for our society – it is also a progressive, highly innovative industry. The use of state-of-the-art information technologies has great potential to make agricultural processes even more efficient in the future“, explains the President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Prof. Reimund Neugebauer. “In our new lighthouse project, eight Fraunhofer Institutes have joined forces to use innovative automation concepts and novel sensory technology to build a data-based ecosystem that shall become a milestone in digitalized agriculture. In this way, digital technologies, new research approaches, and the problem-solving competence of Fraunhofer can become the enablers of highly efficient and at the same time sustainable agriculture of the future.”

Increasing productivity, ensuring sustainability

Digitalization, automation, and electrification of agricultural processes offer numerous starting points for resolving the conflict of goals between economy and ecology. Building on a more comprehensive understanding of the extensive cause-effect relationships in the biosphere, productivity can be further increased through optimized workflows based on comprehensive data; at the same time, sustainability can be achieved through highly automated  subplot- or plant-specific field cultivation with appropriate agricultural implement technology.

The project “Cognitive Agriculture” aims to automatically collect data about complex interrelationships in farming and, based on that, to support decision-making processes in the value network.

The focus will be on the following innovation areas:

  • Open data exchange in an agriculture-specific, digitally networked ecosystem that enables multivalent use and linking of complex agricultural data volumes in secure data spaces;
  • automated interpretation and decision support based on high-resolution measurement data from airborne or ground-based systems using multi-channel measurement information;
  • autonomous field robotics for plant-specific field work as well as robot-guided sensor platforms with specific sensor systems.

Pilot applications on test fields will demonstrate that agrosphere monitoring and plant-specific field cultivation offer an increase in productivity without consequential damage to the environment.

An Agricultural Data Space as a digital platform

Via a networked ecosystem of all relevant agricultural businesses, Fraunhofer wants to gain broad acceptance for “Cognitive Agriculture”. Taking into account the concept of the Industrial Data Space initiated by Fraunhofer, an Agricultural Data Space shall be designed as the platform of a digital ecosystem that overcomes the incompatibilities of existing solutions and enables data usage across the board by farmers, government agencies, environmental organizations, cooperatives, machine manufacturers, etc. while maintaining high standards of security and privacy.   

About “Cognitive Agriculture”

In the lighthouse project “Cognitive Agriculture”, eight Fraunhofer Institutes are conducting joint research on  basic principles for producing agricultural products that are as environmentally friendly and resource-saving as they are highly efficient. Solutions include sensor technology for data collection as well as digitalization and automation of agricultural processes. The idea is to make the analysis of highly complex interactions between biosphere and production usable in an ecosystem of networked data and services (“Agricultural Data Space”) and to have it provide decision support.

Participating institutes: Fraunhofer IESE (leadership), Fraunhofer IFF, Fraunhofer IKTS, Fraunhofer IOSB, Fraunhofer IPA, Fraunhofer IPM, Fraunhofer ITWM, Fraunhofer IVI