With regard to soil health, fertilization is the target of criticism. What difficulties and responsibility do you see?
The problem areas are nitrogen and phosphate, two nutrients that plants need. In the case of nitrogen, we have the major problem, however, that we currently practice a kind of agriculture in which far more nitrogen is spread across the field than the plants actually need. This is referred to as nitrogen surplus. What happens to the excess nitrogen? It ends up in the groundwater as nitrate or is lost as nitrous oxide, a gas that’s very harmful to the climate. These problem areas urgently need to be addressed.
How can nitrogen surplus be avoided?
We must move through plant breeding to varieties and cultivation systems that allow us to significantly increase the absorption of the fertilizer. We are currently in the situation in which at least fifty percent of the nitrogen that has been spread is not absorbed by the plant. That has to change, we have to adopt completely new approaches. That's a challenge for plant breeding.
Alongside a higher absorption capacity, what plant properties should the breeding research?
The climate crisis and future food security pose huge challenges for plant breeding. Even if climate change only comes in a reduced form, as now forecast, we will have a number of problems to deal with. Conventional plant breeding – in other words, breeding resistance to diseases and pests – still remains. It has to. It faces the task of the century. Given the climate crisis and food security I would even say: Breeding toward drought tolerant varieties and varieties that are also better able to absorb nutrients in adverse conditions will once again play a much more important role than we see at present.