Future vision of sustainable ecological and economic tea agriculture in times of global warming

Given the current state of science and research, it must be assumed that global climate warming will increasingly lead to extreme weather, the consequences of which will continue to have drastic effects on the economy and ecology of agriculture. In order to safeguard the economy and ecology of agriculture in the future under these circumstances, adaptation and redirection are necessary now and in the future. Agriculture moreover needs new sustainable economic and ecological business models that compensate for the reduction in yields caused by climate change, protect the environment and nature, and at the same time are sustainably climate-friendly.

Sustainable agriculture is the ecological, economic, and future-oriented management of agricultural land. Sustainable agriculture aims to preserve land, water, genetic resources, and the climate for future generations. This applies to agriculture, animal husbandry, the future energy economy, as well as to the people employed in agriculture, who deserve fair and future-oriented treatment. It is based on creative, future-oriented development that meets the challenges of climate change and the common good.

Overview: sustainable, organic agriculture and the future energy economy:

  1. organic farming, internationally certified, without the use of chemicals and genetic engineering.
  2. sustainable organic farming with internal nutrient cycles and sufficient infrastructure for compost production, in compliance with international legal rules.
  3. small-scale local cattle farming (additional income from meat and milk production) with the necessary infrastructure to feed biomass into biogas plants and as a nutrient component for compost production, in compliance with international legal rules. The international animal husbandry regulations must also be complied with if animal manure is purchased from conventional animal husbandry or biogas plants. (Cost savings through own cheaper production of the manure, and yield increases through increasing humus enrichment of the soil).
  4. small biogas plants for the production of cheap and clean heating energy or electricity for households and production facilities (previous costs for energy supply can be saved, surplus energy can be sold, additional income). Waste products from biogas production (fermentation residues/fertilisers) are most usefully processed into compost.
  5. nature, environment, climate, animal and species protection through appropriate infrastructure measures, especially protection of soil fertility and protection of soils from erosion caused by droughts and heavy rain.
  6. generation of energy through biogas, solar, wind, hydropower or other renewable energies. (Additional income through the saving and marketing of renewable energies).
  7. certification and marketing of natural carbon storage (humus) through compost application and the production of renewable energies (additional income through the future marketing possibility of CO2 certificates).
  8. compliance with national and international labour and social standards.
  9. international and national scientific cooperation, consultation and planning with appropriate organisations, for the continuous individual development of sustainable ecology and economy in climate change. (Knowledge building in all techniques of future ecology and economy).

Organic farming today and in future

Organic agriculture today focuses primarily on compliance with certification rules, the renunciation of chemical pesticides and the prescribed documentation of production processes.

Sustainable organic agriculture requires more substantial development and its implementation: The creation of well-calculated and sufficient internal nutrient cycles, climate, environmental, nature, animal and species protection. The observance of internationally recognised labour law and minimum social standards, reduction of fossil energies, CO2 saving, CO2 storage and own energy production from renewable energies.

It is very important that this development is accompanied scientifically in the long term by the producers' own initiative, but also by advisory services and good planning. The advisory structures should therefore be in place or created at all stages of development before the development processes are practically initiated. Future agriculture in climate change must adapt to more difficult ecological and economic conditions. The good existing structures must be protected, and additional, sustainable business models must be developed. Here it is important that sustainable organic agriculture and new future-oriented business models are brought into ecological and economic harmony and are thought of together with environment and climate protection.

Internal nutrient cycles in sustainable organic agriculture

A permanent and steady process of sufficient, high-quality compost production provides low-cost, high-quality fertiliser to strengthen the cultivated plants. The constant application of compost steadily increases the humus content in the soil. Sufficient humus makes the soil permanently fertile, binds moisture and naturally stores carbon from the environment. The economic advantages of this management are cost savings on expensive commercial fertiliser purchases and, for example, erosion control. Certificates for the quantities of CO2 saved, stored, or saved through the production of renewable energies could, after appropriate certification, be permanently sold in the international emissions trading in future to companies that cannot save enough CO2.

With climate change, many more weather extremes such as storms, droughts and heavy rainfall and their consequences for agriculture must be expected in the future. Appropriate protective measures are needed to avoid yield declines due to increasing extreme weather events.

Soils must be able to store more moisture and at the same time be protected from severe erosion. Humus-rich soils can store a lot of moisture. Planting translucent shade trees also provides protection for soils from drying out. The root systems of trees and other plants protect the soils from water erosion.

Shaded tea areas produce better quality tea. Shade trees and planted natural areas also produce biomass for compost, for building humus, and serve as forage areas for livestock.

Internal infrastructure for availability of sufficient biomass for compost production

The internal infrastructure for the production of sufficient quantities of compost as fertiliser and soil conditioner is hardly available professionally in today's tea gardens and has to be created step by step in a development process. In the transitional period, it is temporarily possible to resort to external structures in order to produce sufficient high-quality compost and bridge the path into the future.

In agriculture, more land must be allocated for pasture and stables, large enough to raise the required number of animals (mainly cattle). The number of animals must be based on the amount of manure needed to produce the quantity of compost needed as fertiliser for crops and for humus formation. In addition, the rules of international laws regarding the husbandry conditions and feed requirements of the animals should be taken into account.

In the future, these areas should be considered as important as the cultivated areas themselves. If necessary, the tea areas should be reduced somewhat in favour of this expanded infrastructure. In this vision of the future, the economic returns that are thus missing can easily be earned again elsewhere through new business areas, new sustainable structures and savings.

In small tea gardens, it is sufficient to raise a relatively small number of cattle, as long as sufficient healthy nutrition is ensured for the animals. A healthy and sufficient diet can be ensured through sufficient grazing areas. The grazing areas must also be large enough to collect grass for stall feeding and fodder storage for the winter.

Outside and inside the stables, structures should be created that make it possible to care for the animals with as little work as possible and to rationally collect as much of the manure and dung as possible. For this purpose, a mixed husbandry of the animals is suitable, both on the pasture (during the day) and in the stable (in the evening and at night). It makes sense to feed the animals additionally in the stable, as manure collection can be structured and organised much more easily and effectively in the stable than in the pasture.

However, the cattle should have plenty of exercise in the fresh air during the day and should not be kept indoors permanently. Animal husbandry appropriate to the species must always be guaranteed, not only on organic farms, and must comply with the husbandry regulations of the EU regulation as well as the US regulation.

In order to facilitate the care of the animals and a manure collection in the stable, this infrastructure should already be planned when building the stables and planting the pastures. Such planned infrastructures are helpful to keep the future costs of the stable operation low. The selection and sowing of fodder plants is crucial for land use and sufficient fodder quantity.

In addition to grazing areas, there should also be sufficient natural areas that can be used by insects and other species, and that can also provide sufficient renewable biomass for compost. The choice of planting also plays a major role here.

If there are not enough areas, then new areas have to be created, or if this is not possible, additional biomass should be procured from outside the farm. This can be ensured through household collections, the collection of organic waste from other farms or through purchase. An appropriate procurement plan should be in place to always ensure sufficient quantities of selected organic material.

Here, too, the rules of international organic certifications must be observed.

Biogas plants in sustainable organic agriculture

Even small biogas plants that produce heating energy or electricity for households and tea factories can save enormous energy costs. Small plants are available on the market with little investment or can be built by oneself with construction plans available on the internet. Generating electricity from biogas, however, is much more costly, but possible.

If the biomass available on the farm and the accumulated manure are first processed into heating energy or electricity in the biogas plant and consumed in this way, energy costs are reduced. Surplus energy can be marketed if necessary.

The waste from biogas production (fermentation residues/fertiliser) consists of both solid substances and liquid substances (liquid manure). This biomass can then also be used as a nutrient supplier for compost production.

The intermediate step of using biomass in the biogas plant, before composting, is therefore economically and ecologically valuable.

Under certain conditions, fermentation residues (slurry) from the biogas plant can also be used directly as fertiliser in organic farming. In accordance with international rules, this requires prior classification by laboratory tests.

There are three types of fertiliser: organic, organic-mineral and farm fertiliser. Different requirements are placed on these three types of fertiliser. Only substrates from agricultural production or agricultural waste products that have been produced in compliance with animal husbandry regulations may be used. Therefore, a batch test of the raw materials and their origin, the type of production, the minimum nutrient content as well as the nutrient forms and the labelling is required. With appropriate classification and labelling, these three types of fertiliser may also be marketed.

Agriculture in a changing climate is being expanded by the energy and environmental economy

The future of agriculture will probably also be an evolution towards the energy and environmental economy. Farmers will not only produce the agricultural products they know today, but will also shift towards the production, use and marketing of renewable energies. The proceeds from renewable energies can be used to finance the necessary investments of the future. Besides the marketing of tea, there will be additional sources of income:

  1. own energy consumption and cost savings in production and private households.
  2. marketing into the regional and supra-regional energy grids, e.g., self-produced gas from the biogas plant, for heating energy in production and in private households. The same applies to the generation of electricity from wind energy, hydropower and solar energy. For example, sunny tea areas can be intelligently shaded with solar modules and thus also produce better quality tea.
  3. In the future, an international certificate trade with CO2 certificates will probably be established, which already exists in Europe in parts. Households and farms that save a lot of CO2 or, for example, store it in humus-rich soil, or produce renewable energies, will be given a positive CO2 balance and can thus sell surplus certificates via an energy exchange to households and companies with negative certificates.

Global warming and the necessary international political countermeasures offer agricultural enterprises, which generally have sufficient land, excellent conditions to become energy enterprises with excellent economic and ecological perspectives in the future, in addition to agriculture.

The new economic opportunities in combination with sustainable ecological agriculture, animal husbandry, protective planting and plant protection not only offer insect and species protection, but also create scope for investments for the restoration of nature and landscape protection as preventive measures against increasingly extreme weather events such as rain, storms and heat. In this way, the ecological cycle, in which all areas complement and protect each other, can also close at some point, provided that international action is taken in good time.

Updated 7 November 2023