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Prof. Dr. Nils Borchard: 

BioMonitor4CAP supports establishing result-based measures for agriculture

Preserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change ensures agricultural production in the long term. A broad consensus on this among scientists, policy-makers and forward-thinking farmers supports implementation of transformative actions. One example is the European BioMonitor4CAP project developing advanced biodiversity monitoring schemes supporting implementation of result-based agricultural programs. The German Agricultural Society e.V. (DLG) is one of the project partners coordinating field trials, communication, and dissemination. Prof. Dr. Nils Borchard, Head of Research and Innovation at DLG`s Competence Centre for Agriculture, provides some insights of the project's objectives and milestones.

DLG-Newsroom: What is the major aim of BioMonitor4CAP?

Prof. Dr. Nils Borchard: In BioMonitor4CAP, a team consisting of various experts from research and practice develops and validates monitoring systems based on state-of-the-art technologies to assess biodiversity and its changes in agricultural landscapes at farm level. The main objective is to develop and establish advanced biodiversity monitoring systems for a results-oriented agricultural policy and sustainable development of agriculture. To this end, traditional methods will be combined with new technological approaches based on acoustic, optical and molecular techniques. For example, devices for acoustic and optical detection of insects and birds will be used. The project is funded by the European Union under the Horizon Program.

What is DLG's role in the project?

DLG coordinates the implementation of field and demonstration trials in multiple European countries and Peru and the project`s communication and dissemination activities. To this end, DLG supports knowledge sharing and exchange in Germany, Europe and beyond through its networking and knowledge sharing platforms and events.

Can you give specific examples of DLG's work on BioMonitor4CAP?

In 2023, involved scientists and engineers designed and set up experiments, tested, and calibrated devices prior distributing them to the research sites. We travelled to numerous sites in five European countries to meet local partners and stakeholders allowing adjustments of the experimental design considering local conditions. Apart of this consortium members gathered and processed an enormous amount of literature to derive a reliable overview of indicators suitable to monitor and evaluate biodiversity of soils, insects, and birds at farm land. Based on this the consortium will develop affordable, easy, and robust technical approaches and indicator systems suited to monitor biodiversity near-continuously at farm.

BioMonitor4CAP has been running for about one and a half year: What are the most relevant achievements so far?

The field experiments are implemented. Related results will be made available to the public at DLG events and/or on the project`s website as soon as they are ready for publication. In addition, a project funded by the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection called IWANA provides the ground to test devices and approaches developed in BioMonitor4CAP as IWANA explores the integration of wild herbs into common cropping systems at DLG International Crop Production Centre in Bernburg-Strenzfeld.

Overall, what are the first milestones of the project and what are the next steps?

The annual meeting in Lisbon, hosted by the Portuguese project partner Food4Sustainability CoLAB. This meeting was an important milestone as it allowed the consortium to evaluate the work of the first year and plan the work of the upcoming 12 to 18 months. This includes the final preparation and coordination of proposed research activities in Portugal, Finland, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Peru.

What exactly has been planned?

This year a much larger number of study sites will be sampled and equipped with devices. Compared to 2023 with research activities at 20 sites in five countries, we will perform research at more than 40 sites in nine countries this year. In addition to traditional methods such as field bird counts and acoustic and optical devices, new devices combining acoustic and optical recording to monitor multiple target species simultaneously will be used and tested for the first time.

This year, drone surveys will also be carried out to determine landscape configuration. The aim is to collect comprehensive data explaining bird and insect diversity and the soil microbiome through related modelling approaches. Any data will be fed into the BioMonitor4CAP web GIS platform: This platform will make spatial information on habitats, data on species distribution and soil carbon data publicly available in the near future.

How will BioMonitro4CAP ensure that the monitoring systems can actually be used in agriculture?

We involve farmers and agricultural advisors ensuring that the monitoring and indicator systems are reliable, robust, easy and acceptable. Thus, they are interviewed regarding their expectations and willingness to adopt such systems and related programs aiming to preserve biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. For this purpose the consortium has been performed focus group interviews and involves multiple stakeholders in the development of the biodiversity monitoring systems.

What is the feedback so far?

A first round of surveys in Finland revealed a general interest in biodiversity monitoring systems among farmers. However, these results pointed out that BioMonitor4CAP should not just develop the monitoring system, but also invest into knowledge development and exchange activities enhancing acceptance and willingness to adopt at farm scale. Interest at famers` side is typically to understand to what extend their activities preserve biodiversity and what economic benefits they may create on the long-term.

What are the specific barriers hampering acceptance at farm?

As the focus group interviews have not yet been completed in all countries and the evaluation is still ongoing, it is too early to make any valid statement. However, the first round of interviews in Finland has shown that farmers are not fundamentally opposed to biodiversity monitoring. There is still the question of data sovereignty and benefit creation. It is still challenging for farmers to utilize such information for decision making. Thus, translating and transferring knowledge has been a highly relevant activity of BioMonitor4CAP.

Moreover, the BioMontor4CAP consortium aims to develop approaches operating almost autonomous to avoid creation of additional work load. Thus, it is important to make such technologies and systems as easy to use as possible to minimize the time and costs needed to operate them. This will also enhance the farmers` willingness to anticipate and adopt biodiversity monitoring systems.

What are the most important next tasks for DLG?

The most important activities for BioMonitor4CAP is to mediate the integration of extension services and farmers into multiple project activities. Such an involvement will ensure the development of acceptable, robust and easy system assuring monitoring and evaluation of biodiversity ideally preserved through agricultural practices. Furthermore, for the integration of biodiversity measures into the future EU Common Agricultural Policy the perspective of extension services and agricultural practice should be taken into account in order to make the implementation of biodiversity payment schemes as attractive as possible.

Interview: Stefanie Pionke / DLG-Newsroom

About the person: 

Prof. Dr. Nils Borchard

Prof. Dr. Nils Borchard is Head of Research and Innovation at the DLG Technical Centre for Agriculture and Visiting Professor at the University of Lisbon. In his role as Head of Research and Innovation at the DLG Technical Centre for Agriculture, he is responsible for setting up and managing funded research and development projects for the entire food value chain. Nils Borchard studied geography at the Humboldt University in Berlin and subsequently completed his doctorate at the Institute of Soil Science at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Bonn. He worked as laboratory manager and soil expert at the CGIAR Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, scientific coordinator at the Ruhr University Bochum and research coordinator and project manager at the Natural Resources Centre Finland.