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The networked farm

The digitalisation of agriculture is both an opportunity and a challenge. It affects all stakeholders in agricultural value chains. Although the topic is widely covered in the media, digital technologies are used only to a very limited degree in Bavaria. The online platform ‘Regiothek’ and the collaboration between the University of Passau and the Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture (LfL) highlight the potential synergies and added value that can be generated in this area through collaborations.

This article originates from the first edition of the transfer magazine ‘TRIOLOG. Wissenschaft – Wirtschaft – Gesellschaft in Ostbayern’ (‘TRIOLOG. Academia – Business – Society in East Bavaria’) published by the TRIO university partnership, in which the University of Passau is also involved. Transfer und Innovation Ostbayern (TRIO) is a project by the six East Bavarian universities. The project is funded by the ‘Innovative Hochschule’ (‘Innovative University’) programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and will run for five years. TRIO regards itself as an initiator of innovations in East Bavaria. The aim of TRIO is to expand and actively shape the transfer of knowledge and technology and to strengthen dialogue between academia, business and society in the region.  

Have you ever wondered where to find artisan bread made with organic ingredients in your area? Or where the beef in your burger comes from? Or how to buy fruit and vegetables directly from local producers? The online platform ‘Regiothek’ is dedicated to answering all such questions concerning ‘honest eating’. It provides a platform for small agricultural, food-processing, retail and catering businesses to present themselves and so reach their customers directly – people that value quality and who want to know where their food comes from. Consumers can not only trace the supplier relationships between individual businesses but also find out who offers what in terms of sustainability. ‘We thereby want to provide transparency as the basis for individual consumer decisions’, says Simon Nestmeier, who set up the platform together with Alexander Treml, Bastian Kühnel and Anton Kohlbauer.

The ‘Regiothek’ is a start-up project by the Chair of Data Science at the University of Passau. The idea came about by chance when Alexander Treml, who at the time was still a Computer Science student at the University of Passau, was working part-time at a small mill bakery: ‘I sold bread and rolls at various weekly markets and in the process learned a lot about the different needs of customers and the challenges faced by providers as a result of digitalisation’, Treml remembers. In specific terms, many providers recognise the need for digital marketing but do not have the capacity to manage a dedicated homepage or social media channels.

This is why in Lower Bavaria in particular, I view collaboration with a university as the key factor in successful innovation.

Regiothek-Founder Alexander Treml

The collaboration between the company founders and the chair’s professor, Dr Michael Granitzer, has been close from the start – not least because the vision of this project is also dear to the latter’s heart: ‘In my opinion, the “Regiothek” is performing pioneering work by combining information technology with a social trend to create an innovative service and thereby helping to breathe life into the concept of ecological sustainability.’ Professor Granitzer also likes the idea of using the platform to help small-scale farmers, ‘the very people who – decades before the great trend in organic food came along - have endeavoured to produce good, healthy food.’ These are the people, he believes, who often lack the technical knowledge to raise their own profile by marketing and advertising themselves.

Project on digital farming

The topic of the ‘digitalisation of agriculture’ also occupies Professor Michael Granitzer in a different context: at the new site of the Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture (LfL) in Ruhstorf an der Rott, the Digitalisierungszentrum Landwirtschaft (Agricultural Digitalisation Centre) was set up in 2018; this will facilitate numerous collaboration opportunities between the university and the LfL in future. At the start of the year, a collaboration between the Chair of Data Science and the Digital Farming working group at the Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Animal Husbandry got under way. ‘As part of a semester work project, students at the University of Passau will work with individual animal sensor data from the dairy industry as well as video footage recorded as part of a project by the Digital Framing working group’, explains PD Dr Markus Gandorfer, director of the working group at the LfL. As another example, he also mentions the collaboration with the TRIO university partnership: in exchange with Dr Thomas Metten, coordinator of the subproject ‘Aktive Gestaltung des Transfer- & Innovationsgeschehens in Ostbayern’ (‘Active Shaping of the Transfer and Innovation Work in East Bavaria’), the LfL will tackle the evaluation and further development of events on knowledge transfer, including as part of the ‘Ruhstorfer Digitale Werkstattgespräche’ (‘Ruhstorf Digital Workshop Talks’).

Collaboration as a factor in successful innovation

The ‘Regiothek’ founders also maintain close ties with the university. ‘Technology continues to develop at lightning speed and the universities are always up to date. This is why in Lower Bavaria in particular, I view collaboration with a university as the key factor in successful innovation’, explains Alexander Treml. He is certain that meeting the needs of providers and consumers requires cutting-edge technology: ‘Especially in terms of interaction between these two groups, the ‘Regiothek’ must conduct a wealth of research, which we can only tackle in collaboration with academia.’ 

Barbara Weinert

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