Help milk farmers use less nitrogen


You read this web-page? I guess you're alive than. Life is changing. And I especially refer to the so called problems we get confronted with nowadays. I'm talking about climate change and the bad shape nature is in. There is a new movement: system-biology. System-biology to me is like ecology: Look at the situation as one big interdependent system.


And there is another important insight: we do not understand everything. Although we act as if we do, we don't. (e.g. listen to 'smarty plants') And because of this, we need to give up control. Instead of constantly deciding on how our environment should be organized, we give some room to our environment to organize itself (give up on control). So, we co-exist. Sometimes we take, but not everything, sometimes we give over control to our environment. Planning is only about a part, the part that we (humans) need. The other part gets determined by the other creatures we live with. So we back off, we give some room.

And now reality...

In farming this idea is totally understood. A large group of farmers is using nature (a name for the other creatures besides us) where they co-work to organize their farm. E.g. they don't plow their land but have an organic layer where all kinds of creatures together allows the grass to grow. The farmer wants the grass for his cows. The other creatures... well, want something else I guess, I do not really know.

And this is just an example of many. The farmer looks at nature and tries to co-work to get the things he needs/wants. And not till the end. In farming this is called to extensify instead of to intensify (getting more production). Some farmers understand that when you constantly focus on efficiency (getting more, faster), you run risks. You might get diseases and kill a lot of creatures we all need in the long run. Instead the farmer could for example give some room for pigs and chickens to run around.

About me...

After hearning about this movement I would really like to contribute to this from my field of expertise: data. In the long run, I would like to have a whole movement of hackers around this theme to help the farmers as much as we can. I'm part of farmhack.

Science Hack Days 2019

After this elaborate introduction, I came up with 3 hacks for the Science Hack Days 2019 (Eindhoven):

1. I co-work with a farmer in Friesland. This farmer collects tons of data on his farm. For the Science Hack Days, we have access to his computers, using TeamViewer. We need to unleash these data and getting them into an understandable format so we can help the other hacks.

2. We need biologists / ecologists and farmers that can help the farmer to use less nitrogen (both natural and artificial) on his land. May be the biologists can deduct from the data where the farmer can start using less nitrogen already today. But also we need to understand that using less nitrogen gives way to nature to do ... well, it's own 'thing' . If the farmer uses less nitrogen, do we help nature? E.g. more insects? Birds? Probably the farmer needs nitrogen to reach his goal: milk. How can the farmer use less nitrogen and still reach his goal, at least to some extend?

3. As you can tell from the story above, it is still pretty shaky: unclear of what we're really doing and how we might reach that. In order to help, we also need to get a better way of listening to nature. I once took a stroll with 'my farmer' (named Tjerk) and he showed me that their needs to be air in the ground. He showed me how deep the grass roots go and these roots need to be white. He showed me that he needs worms that digest organic material so it can be used by the grass. He showed me that clover helps the grass to get water from deeper levels. I know this sounds very vague but we need to be able to listen to nature. Can we come up with technical solutions (sensors and other ways) that help nature to talk to us? And not only to the benefit of the farmer but also to the benefit of nature, which is in the benefit of us all in the long run.

WhatsApp Video 2019-04-08 at 19.21.08.mp4