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"Imparting knowledge - practical, understandable and appropriate"

Interview by Daphne Huber, DLG Mitteilungen

The DLG (German Agricultural Society) has introduced a new dual leadership with Dr Lothar Hövelmann and Freya von Czettritz.

Dr Lothar Hövelmann has been appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of DLG e.V. in addition to his function as Managing Director of DLG’s Competence Center Agriculture, he is responsible for the affairs of the non-profit association and its technical activities.

Freya von Czettritz is the new CEO of DLG-Holding GmbH and is responsible for the business activities of DLG.  In the interview, they talk about the fireworks of innovations at trade fairs and how agriculture implements with determination, sustainability and animal welfare. "In doing so, the DLG also extends beyond the boundaries of our industry."

Dr Hövelmann, you are the DLG's Chief Executive Officer and as Managing Director responsible for the DLG Competence Centre Agriculture. What mood did you find the farmers in at the DLG Field Days 2022 in June at Gut Kirschgartshausen?

Dr Lothar Hövelmann: At the DLG Feldtage trade fair you generally encounter optimistic farmers, despite  the current situation. The exchange with professional colleagues live at the crop stand is motivating. Concepts are compared and experiences from the most diverse crop landscapes are shared. The situation is shaped by issues such as "red areas", crop protection in protected areas, and energy and fertiliser prices. On the one hand, input prices are observed with concern, on the other hand, producer prices are at historically high levels. Arable farmers also consider this a double-edged sword. They realise that the exorbitant feed prices are pushing livestock farmers to the edge.

Therefore, the interest in an appropriate balance of prices also dominates among the arable farmers. There are prerequisites for this on the production side: Inputs and technology that enable good and sustainable yields. And this is where the problems lie: The question of how policy, regulation and the market affect the availability of crop protection and fertilisers. I also met some livestock farmers at the DLG Feldtage who urgently need affordable fodder. The topic is currently being pushed fiercely alongside the perennial hot topics: animal housing construction permits, implementation of the Borchert Commission and price balance in the agricultural value chain.

Ms von Czettritz, the exhibitions are a focal point of the DLG. What were your thoughts when you visited a trade fair again this year after a two-year hiatus due to the Corona pandemic?

Freya von Czettritz: It was an incredibly good feeling! A mixture of excitement and curiosity.

People don't forget so quickly how to inform, exchange and network. Seeing that made me feel relieved. At the agra trade fair in Leipzig, the DLG Feldtage or even the conferences and events I attended, I was impressed by how people were involved in in-depth conversations with each other.

The work in the DLG committees takes place at a very high professional level. In view of public demands for more animal welfare and sustainable crop production, do you think a change in the DLG's appearance in politics and society is necessary?

Hövelmann: At the centre of DLG's work is the industry: agriculture, agribusiness, food - the whole value chain. This is where we contribute to progress. The broad range of expertise represented in the DLG is unparalleled and offers the best opportunities to tackle problems holistically and from different perspectives. This also means that we gain insights beyond the technical industry focus that have political and social relevance. And we do not keep quiet about this. In many cases, politics and society still view agriculture with prejudice.

The huge progress our industry has made in environmental protection, animal welfare and sustainability is only gradually being recognised. Here, too, we see growing tasks for us. This is why the DLG is involved in the Future Commission for Agriculture, the Borchert Commission, the Council for Sustainable Development and the Forum Modern Agriculture.

That is why we strengthened communication outside our industry a few years ago with our Berlin DLG office. Therefore, we have a good critical and cooperative relationship with the most important environmental and animal protection organisations. Agriculture is tackling the challenges of sustainability and animal welfare with great determination, and the DLG also provides information about this. We don't just tell ourselves this, we also go beyond the boundaries of our industry.

Ms von Czettritz, during the lockdown there has been a lot of speculation as to whether there will be exhibitions in the former formats again at all. What plans are you pursuing to make DLG trade fairs attractive for on-site visits?

von Czettritz: Our trade fairs - from AGRITECHNICA to EuroTier to the many events that DLG runs outside Germany - are characterised by a firework of information and innovations compressed into just a few days.  Thanks to new digital tools, such as those we have already developed and will continue to expand, we can deepen the content of the trade fair before and after the event, supplement it with new services and thus considerably increase the added value for visitors and users. I am sure that in this way we will also be able to reach many professionals who cannot make it to our trade fairs for scheduling reasons.

As we all know, the digital world offers a multitude of attractive information and networking opportunities. However, we have also learned in the past two years that presence in front of the screen cannot replace face-to-face meetings. Personally, I find inspiration and impulses to create something new in direct conversation with people. This is especially true for me at trade fairs, in view of the numerous chance meetings that occur on the exhibition grounds and in the trade fair halls. That is why I am firmly convinced: live events will continue to bring people and innovations together.

Together with the exhibitors, we will therefore continue to create marketplaces that offer solutions for the challenges of the agriculture and food industry, stimulate discussions and put innovations in the spotlight. Trade fairs are - as our visitors confirm time and again - the best showcases for innovations. They are "places to be", where you can unexpectedly come across new technical solutions that can help you to advance, both entrepreneurially and personally. These are the moments we want to create impulses for the important topics in the agriculture and food industry.

Our maxim for the future is: knowledge must be communicated in a practical, comprehensible way and be suitable for the respective target group. Making this happen digitally, smartly and easily accessible is an exciting and at the same time ambitious task that I would like to take on.

According to the plans of the EU Commission, the use of plant protection products is to be reduced by 50 percent. Can this development still be stopped and what contribution can DLG make to this?

Hövelmann: Such rigid percentage figures always seem somewhat helpless and lack creativity. Good incentive systems that support the desired goal would be much better. But the politicians have now made up their minds. In practice, it is now a question of how to adequately protect stocks and safeguard harvests with scarce resources. The agricultural machinery industry, together with research and practice, has done a whole concept here. Efficiencies and application accuracy have been impressively improved and there are still many good things in the pipeline for the next two to three years. DLG is a driver of these innovation processes. We take a critical look at the approaches and, with the enormous wealth of experience of our experts, our network, we provide important impulses for the further development of these techniques and processes. And we make this highly visible at our specialist events and exhibitions and with our digital and analogue information. So we are directly involved in the optimisation and dissemination of process improvements.

In its two test centres for agricultural technology and food, the DLG certifies thousands of products every year - from agricultural machinery and tractors to farm inputs and foodstuffs. Where do you see the challenges here in the future?

von Czettritz: With quality programmes along the entire value chain, the DLG promotes a sustainable and future-oriented agriculture and food industry and its social acceptance. The focus is on current focus topics such as sustainability and animal welfare, which benefit equally from technological innovations, new processes and methods.

In our testing work, we dedicate ourselves to these topics in order to create added value for agricultural technology companies, food producers, the trade as well as farmers and consumers.

In 2017, the DLG caused a sensation with its ten theses on the further development of agriculture until 2030. The basis at the time was an honest assessment of the current situation and the ability to be self-critical. What has become of it?

Hövelmann: The paper was a strong entry into the social and political arena for the DLG. Basically, the statements we developed were not so fundamentally new and spectacular. Within agriculture, they were largely well received, and of course there was criticism. But that is the purpose of publications: the findings are put up for discussion in order to gain further insights. That's how discourse works.

The theses have attracted a lot of attention in the Berlin environment. The self-critical reflection of one of the central organisations of agriculture alone was electrifying for non-agricultural perception. The work was then continued in the above-mentioned commissions and has also had a strong impact on the work in our professional networks.

Efficiency, productivity, sustainability, animal welfare, production alternatives - these are not just slogans, but labels under which the practitioners, advisors and scientists in our committees develop concrete and implementable innovations.

Ms von Czettritz, Mr Hövelmann, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you.