150 Years Agricultural Sciences at ETH Zurich
How can you protect the field from pests without polluting the environment? How can you produce as much food as possible in as little space as possible? And in such a way that it is also worthwhile for agriculture? And what does a cow actually have to eat so that it emits as few greenhouse gases as possible? The Institute of Agricultural Sciences at ETH Zurich has been investigating such questions for 150 years. Over the course of the next hour we'll ask: What has happened over the years? And what does this research actually yield - for nature, agriculture and food security? Here and all over the world? This is the anniversary film on 150 years of agricultural science at ETH Zurich. Welcome! Bonjour! Buongiorno! Bun di! And hello! My name is Katharina Locher. I'll take you on a tour of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences. Behind me is the headquarters, in one of the oldest buildings of ETH Zurich, the former agricultural and forestry school. And we'll go in there, but also outside - in the field and the stable. Everything online due to the pandemic, but still as close to the action as possible.
And after this hour, if you like, you can delve even deeper into various topics that are presented in webinars by the various research groups. There is also a virtual aperitif where you can meet alumni, research groups and other guests. If you do not understand the spoken language, you can always activate the subtitles. And now let's go. "Institute for Agricultural Sciences at ETH Zurich". This is where I need to be. This tour begins with Nina Buchmann, Professor of
Grassland Sciences and Head of the Department of Environmental Systems Science. You've been head of the Department for almost four years and until the summer of 2021. What are you currently dealing with? At the moment, in my group, we are dealing with the effects of climate change, but also the loss of biodiversity, on grasslands, but also on arable systems - and even in the forest. You are also head of the Department of Environmental Systems Science. What's keeping you busy there? There is a lot to do, from the professorial planning to the finances, but also the further development of the curricula and the appointment and preparation of adjunct professors.
So a lot of different activities. And of course the anniversary of the agricultural sciences, which are part of the department D-USYS. What are the institute's questions that you consider important for everyone? Agricultural sciences are about researching sustainable agriculture.
What could you do differently and what could you do better? But how can I also prepare production and the entire food system for the new challenges we have faced e.g. loss of biodiversity, climate change? This makes up a very large part of our research in agricultural sciences. What are the most important questions for you in the topic? So there are aspects like: How do I make production systems more resilient? How do I use modern technologies, be it from robotics or be it from digitization, in order to be able to support the farmers ? Or aspects of how we can make new mixtures, new breeds.
So it's very, very wide. And with that we are right in the middle of the topic. Agricultural Sciences at ETH Zurich are about thinking outside the box. We will go into this later. Thanks for now, Nina Buchmann. But before we go into the institute, we want to get out into a vineyard. There I'll meet two decision-makers
whom I would like to ask how important Agricultural Sciences are - for research and for Switzerland. This is where research meets practice. We are in the Chilesteig vineyard, in the middle of Zurich, where red and white wine is grown. And soon there will be a transition to a so-called fungus-resistant grape variety - co-developed by ETH Zurich. And this shows that the research at ETH Zurich finds its way into practice.
But we don't want to talk primarily about research now, but about the importance of Agricultural Sciences, with these two gentlemen, with the President of the Federal Council Guy Parmelin, himself also a winemaker, and Minister of Agriculture and also responsible for education in his department . And with Joël Mesot, President of ETH Zurich and professor of physics. Good afternoon, gentlemen, welcome to the vineyard. Mr President, since you are a winemaker yourself, is there a question that would interest you? What else should one do research in Agricultural Sciences in relation to viticulture? There is always something to explore. When you plant vines, you plant for 30 to 40 years. Given the challenges of global warming, changing consumer tastes, and societal pressures to reduce the use of pesticides with new technologies. Everything that can be anticipated is really useful,
and that is on the one hand the role of research stations such as Agroscope, but also the role of Agricultural Sciences such as those operated by ETH Zurich. Is that something that is already being researched at ETH Zurich? Yes absolutely. We are working on a very, very broad spectrum, ranging from biology, e.g. for the reduction of pesticides, to computer science
and the development of drones. All of these applications can already be found in agriculture. Why is this research, this study programme important? After all, only 2.5 percent of Swiss employees work in agriculture - a fraction compared to 150 years ago.
The degree is very important because it helps maintain food security in the country. In terms of climate change, look at the frost of the past few days as we haven't seen it in many, many years. That was already the case in 2017. We are also very dependent on other countries. We eat what we import practically every other day.
Apart from the dairy sector, where we have a surplus, we are dependent on foreign countries for practically everything else. And since there are also other developments, changes in consumer habits, we have to be more careful with the environment. It is our future that is being worked on, whether at Agroscope or at ETH Zurich. I think we mustn't forget that. We also have to train the people who will be working on it in the future very, very well in these new technologies. So the degree in agricultural sciences is very important at ETH Zurich? Yes absolutely. The President of the Swiss Confederation has already said it so well that I have almost nothing to add. But I would say that we have a tradition - we have to remember that the mission, one of the most important missions of ETH Zurich, is to support the Swiss economy and society in general, including agriculture.
This year we are therefore celebrating our 150th anniversary, and that is important in view of the enormous challenges facing agriculture and society: the effects of climate change on agriculture. How do you develop new technologies, especially in the digital area? That's a lot, but to go even further, a technological university like ETH Zurich can of course provide interesting solutions. Which research areas at ETH Zurich have already been implemented in reality, in agriculture? If we go back over the past 150 years, there are many examples to be given. For reasons of time, I may limit myself to current examples.
For example, we have developed robots and drones that can take pictures and record an extremely precise state of the fields. In this way, the farmers can intervene on site and, for example, avoid using resources that are not necessary. So this is a very specific example that we are working on right now. But putting it into practice is not always easy. There are things that can cause concern, such as sustainability efforts or digital change. Why are such ideas sometimes difficult for the farmers?
I think farmers are open to technological developments. Mr Mesot was just talking about robots. If one day we have to, we can replace herbicides with technologies, with robots, which also means fewer staff, i.e. lower costs. So competitiveness increases. And we are an expensive country. Labor costs make up a very large part of production costs in Switzerland. And this aspect alone is something that farmers look at very closely and which is why they are open to new technologies. Of course, sometimes you have to
convince them with a little more time, but it can be done. In view of the upcoming challenges, what do you expect from ETH Zurich in the field of Agricultural Sciences? I look forward to the development of new technologies and for ETH Zurich to have a nose to bid on the right horses. You need it so that you don't just research to have fun and say to yourself: We have invented something great. There always has to be a concrete benefit, an application in practice. But they do it very well! And vice versa? What do you expect from politics, from the president of the Confederation? Support, such as coming to the 150th anniversary today - Money! It is also very important that we also reach out to farmers. We have several projects in which we work directly with practitioners, i.e. farmers. For example, we are very committed to the AgroVet-Strickhof, the location of the
canton of Zurich for agricultural training and livestock research. We have invested a lot of resources there, which is a win-win situation which, on the one hand, allows us to learn about the specific problems farmers are facing, and they can see our technological solutions and quickly start integrating these solutions into their production. So it's a very interesting situation. Another thing we must not forget is connecting all parts of the food chain. Right now we're talking about agriculture, but in the end we go all the way to the consumer. That is why we launched an initiative a few years ago, the World Food System Center. We sat all Swiss players
around one table to see how the interfaces between the individual stations can be improved. Ultimately, to have an advantage for our Swiss industry, to be competitive with the outside world and also to find solutions that are sustainable. So there is a lot to be done. Thank you gentlemen for coming here to the vines in Zurich. Agricultural Sciences have a high priority at ETH Zurich and the responsible Federal Councillor, even if agriculture as such has a different meaning today than when the study programme was first offered. That was in 1871, then in the Agriculture Department. Two professors were appointed and five students began their studies.
We look at a few pictures from bygone times that were shot 50 years ago - for the 100th anniversary. The basic requirement for studying at the agricultural department is either the Matura or an equivalent entrance examination. The first semester introduces the students to the basic scientific subjects, the upper semesters then continue to specialize in one of the four subject areas.
This means that all students stay together at the beginning of their studies. The Rossberg offers countless experimentation and research opportunities for term papers and doctoral students. The students also work regularly in the experimental garden. Studies are carried out on the formation of yields, new varieties and different types of fertilization are tried out. The effect of the environmental factors and the corresponding growth processes are continuously monitored here. And so the student continuously learns how to control a plant population.
In addition to the variety trials, interesting competitor trials are also carried out. That we have a lot of this conspicuous wild chervil here and in another plot where little nitrogen is administered that the wild chervil is practically unable to develop here. So this shows us how great the influence of pruning and fertilization is on the development and competitiveness of the individual plants. We should be careful when we're taking samples that we do not make a mess as much as possible.
You'll thank yourselves later when it comes to the analysis. This saves at least three times of your time. Professor Lörtscher has a special attraction ready for newcomers. Because animals are presented there that you don't see anywhere else in Switzerland. The Ayrshire cow originally comes from the southwest Scottish province of Ayr and is a slightly heavier cattle that is one-sidedly bred for milk.
This now is an Eringer cow, at home in Valais. She did quite well, with 3292 and 4.17 percent fat. The bioclimatic laboratory is a novelty for the Chamau. In here there are two climatic chambers in which you can change temperature, humidity and air pressure within wide ranges.
Animals can be exposed to special stresses due to cold, heat and lack of oxygen. The behavior of the performance, food and water consumption and also various physiological reactions are continuously examined. Many of the values obtained in this way are of course very interesting for livestock exports to developing countries.
Whichever subject a student chooses, one thing is certain: It is a course of study that conveys a wide range of knowledge that enables young people from non-farming backgrounds to pursue a profession that is close to nature. So this is what agricultural science studies used to look like in the past. Today it is still about professions close to nature.
Around 400 students come and go here, and there are around 12 professorships. One of them is Nina Buchmann, who is now taking me to the digital platform at the Institute for Agricultural Sciences - set up especially for the anniversary. What can you do here? We have a little robotic pig here. And when you step on it, it starts and leads me through the exhibition. Or you can point to these illustrations with your smartphone, and then a short video is started with augmented reality about all our research groups, where you can see what we are doing. For example, here is your research group on grassland sciences.
What is it about this research area that attracts you? Well, this icon here shows one of our measuring stations from the SwissFlux Net, and we are measuring the greenhouse gas exchange between the entire ecosystem and the atmosphere with a very high resolution. And with that we can of course find out, for example, whether this meadow is a carbon sink or source. Very important for the discussion about climate change. So a very current question. How have the questions changed in the last 150 years? That was different than today, wasn't it? Certainly. So, in the past, productivity and increasing productivity of both the animals and the plants were really in the foreground.
And today it is more towards sustainable agriculture. How can we feed the population and the world more sustainably, healthily? And the department also had to adapt. Exactly. It doesn't look the same here either. No, we're still in the same building, here in the atrium, many who have studied here will know that.
But also the questions with which methods we approach, such as here with micrometeorological methods or other colleagues with robotics, with phenotyping. That has really changed a lot. That means that the department also had to be rebuilt a bit. Exactly. The Institute of Agricultural Sciences came together with the Environmental Sciences in 2012 with a major merger. And now we are one of the largest departments at ETH Zurich, environmental systems science, and of course we have a great exchange between the various disciplines, which we also need to deal with the problem.
What has also changed when you compare the pictures from the past with today: Back then there were hardly any women. Two professors at the beginning, certainly not a female professor. Women in Agricultural Sciences. How does that work in terms of compatibility? It works just like in any other profession. The time that you spend to do a job well is very similar, whether I'm with an industrial company or at ETH Zurich. It is heart and soul that goes into it.
And then you can do it with your family, child and partner. You have a family of your own and are a professor here at the Institute for Agricultural Sciences. If we look to the future: a lot has happened in the last 150 years. What happens in the next 150 years when you see how agriculture has changed? What is in store for the agricultural sciences? Of course, we all don't have a crystal ball now, but I would expect that we will become significantly more digital, that we will also be able to implement precision agriculture, and that this systematic approach that we live here in teaching and research will help us to develop new strategies to make agriculture and production and nutrition in general more sustainable. So that will continue to develop, also in the next 150 years.
Thank you, Nina Buchmann, for this insight into the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, which will continue to present itself with the digital platform in the coming weeks. For now only for internal users due to the current situation. It will later move on, for example to the Zurich Science Days Scientifica of ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. You almost feel like you are in a natural history museum with all these exhibits. This is one of the oldest collections at ETH Zurich, the oldest that is still in its original location.
And this is where Susanne Ulbrich, Professor of Animal Physiology, feels at home and deals primarily with the reproduction of livestock. When you talk about pet anatomy collection, that is a bit far from farm animals when you look at these puffer and porcupine fish. Why are they here? The porcupine fish is part of the zoological collection, and it has its home here at the LFW. The pet anatomical and zoological collections go well together because one can learn from evolution or understand how certain bodily functions developed.
And understanding the bodily functions of humans and animals is also a very important part of the course for our students. That means, this porcupine fish has a direct connection with the beef, which is back here. What do they have in common, or how are they related? They are not related in the context of evolution. Both vertebrates have evolved to form bones.
The bone is the basic component of the musculoskeletal system. You have to know the musculoskeletal system and understand what the function of the vertebrae is. How the animal can stand, for example, without making any effort. So it can stand relaxed for a long time. Or how the ruminant stomach fits into this animal.
It's big, the rumen. And it has the special property that the animal can digest grass and make milk from grass. And some of these exhibits are very old. But do you still need them in your teaching? We may not take the animal here in the lecture hall, but we do take smaller exhibits or models with us to the lectures. And I like to hand them over to the students, because taking something in hand and understanding it is very important for understanding.
For example those udders there. Is that still up to date? You could switch to digital options today instead of using such very old exhibits. This is a good point. All collections at ETH Zurich are also being digitized so that they can be made more accessible, especially for research. But the actual comprehension or understanding of certain things is sometimes still good or even excellent through direct experience. And that is something that all students who come and go here experience.
Around 400 students walk by here every day. You are also their director of studies. How did the study programme have to adapt over these 150 years? You have also just finished a course reform, in 2016, what has happened with this course? Much has certainly changed, because it is not just about the production of agricultural products, but also about understanding the place agriculture has in the ecosystem.
Not only in Switzerland, but also worldwide. Ours is a topic or a course that is system-oriented. That is, it deals with problems that are complex. And complex problems are usually not easy to solve. So you can also say that the students themselves had to change? In the past you might have studied agronomy to become a good farmer.
Today it is probably different. Very few who actually come from agriculture or want to go into agriculture or primary production actually come to ETH Zurich. We train decision-makers who take part in very different places, take responsibility and are essentially trained to work along the food value chain, but also in the interface, e.g. between agricultural production and landscape protection. What do you find fascinating about it? It just fascinates me because it affects everyone. Everyone wants to eat every day, or everyone around the world must have daily access to food.
But it's not easy, the course is embedded in various other areas, e.g. the basic understanding of biology or the understanding of economics or the understanding of plant production. This is a very broad course of study that you have to deepen selectively in order to understand individual processes. So the students have to have broad knowledge and have broad interests.
Thank you, Susanne Ulbrich. And we are now meeting such a student and his motivation for studying agricultural sciences - up there in the lecture hall. Because of the pandemic, classes are currently taking place online, but Julian Rogger came here for us anyway, he is currently writing his dissertation. And Monika Maurhofer, Professor of Phytopathology.
You are primarily concerned with biological pest control and have already received the so-called golden owl twice - a prize from students for lecturers for particularly good lecturing. Why is it important to you to inspire the students? It is important to me that I share my own enthusiasm for a topic, that I can pass it on, that is probably my main motivation. And I also try to make the lessons as exciting as possible.
And of course I also love the dialogue with the students and, above all, the discussions. I try to bring in all of this as much as possible, even with dry topics. You have to somehow deliver these topics as well and make them more entertaining. I also try to tell as many stories as possible. Simply writing something on the blackboard in the lecture hall is not always colorful, colorful and easy to touch.
Writing is perhaps not the best example because I don't have the most beautiful handwriting. The students complain about it from time to time. But I think it's particularly important that you don't just click through a presentation, but that you bring variety. For example, I do a lot of quizzes in between or do small tasks, and every now and then there is a five-minute break to be able to discuss with one another. I also bring a lot of visual material with me: When it comes to algae, I prepare a small algae buffet for the students, for example, so that they can try various edible algae themselves.
That goes down very well. I try to bring in tension, variety and a reference to current topics. Basically it should be more than dry research in the agricultural sciences. I have seen that interdisciplinary skills such as conversation techniques are also part of it. Why is it important to include different competencies? I think one of the advantages of this degree is that it is very broad and we try to promote it. Also with regard to practical professional life.
You have to do a lot of group work with us, we try to give you opportunities for teamwork, presentations, discussions, arguments. And I think that's important in order to find a job later. Also that we promote interdisciplinary cooperation. For example, the students in the master’s degree have a project together with students of food sciences, where they have a project partner, e.g. a producer or a farmer, who presents a current problem to the students , and they then have to try out suggested solutions for these farm managers during the semester to work out how to address their current problems. Such things make our students fit for the job market.
Julian Rogger has all this behind him. At the moment he is working on his dissertation. Why did you actually study agricultural sciences? The big issues like climate change, hunger and the growth of the world population certainly made me want to study agricultural sciences. Above all, dealing with today's problems so that future generations will still have enough healthy food - and an intact environment in which to live.
You also learn broader skills, e.g. economics. How was it for you to learn so many different skills in this course? I think that is exactly what constitutes agricultural science, namely agriculture, or the food system, operates in a very complex area of tension. Social demands, politics, economics and also the natural sciences have to be brought together.
In order to be able to develop really promising solutions, you have to have all these perspectives and discuss them with one another and thus somehow develop realistic solutions. I find that something advantageous, something exciting. And I think that if you decide to study agricultural sciences, you don't just do it because you only want to learn the classical natural sciences, but also want to consider other aspects.
So for you, the motivation for this degree was to be able to think outside the box. How do you experience that? Why are young people studying agricultural science today? I think, as Julian said, things have changed a bit. In the past, people were interested in plant and animal production or in development aid. Today it is much broader.
Topics such as agriculture and the environment, ecology, agriculture and climate change have become much broader today. And the students are also much more critical and question more. They also demand a lot from us lecturers, which also makes the lessons very exciting. I think, in general, interaction and discussion have increased compared to before.
Is that so, are you a critical student? Yes, I think it's definitely a course where you get to hear and discuss many different perspectives - and that's a good thing. But I think you could add even more views to the course. For example, working with people from other disciplines, such as engineers or mathematicians, which would help even more to find good problem solutions. It would also be even more interesting than just working with food scientists, as is now the case, but to make the whole thing even broader. So it could even be broader still? Thank you both for this insight into the study programme. So you are in the lecture hall, studying agricultural sciences, but you are also outside in practice. In the field and in the stable. And that's where we're going now.
In Lindau, between Zurich and Winterthur, ETH Zurich has two research stations - a field and a stable, where you have plenty of space to research plants and animals. At first glance it looks like a normal wheat field. At second glance, however, you notice that there are different types of wheat that are also marked. So you can see that it is a field where experimental research is carried out, i.e. long-term research projects at ETH Zurich. But it's also a high-tech outdoor laboratory, and you can see that here on this Spidercam that can fly over this field.
This is a project by Achim Walter, Professor of Crop Science. You are researching the agriculture of the future. What does it look like? Wheat will also still be very important in the agriculture of the future.
But it will be important to find wheat varieties that are as suitable as possible for our climate, that will cope well with future climates , that are resistant to pests and diseases, and that can also grow with the least possible use of resources. We investigate this with the camera system by recording the wheat and the different varieties every few days and seeing which ones have grown how well under very different weather conditions. What is in store for us? Do we need other plants in the future? No, they will be the same types of plants.
But breeding is a constant process, where new varieties have to be constantly sought, which are resistant to newly developing pathogens and which are better adapted to the climate than they were before. To do this, we use this camera technology, where we then work, for example, with a laser scanner on the camera head, with thermographic cameras, but also with normal color cameras that measure how tall the plants are, from time to time, how they have grown, how much water they give off. This perspiration can be measured by the thermographic camera and similar things.
Can we let it work, this Spidercam? Let's see how it works. Well, there it goes. And you came up with it in a very trivial way at a football match? Exactly. While watching from the sofa at home, I thought, such a camera on a field, that would be ideal
for examining cultivation gardens and being able to measure the hundreds of varieties that are underneath really well. Precisely because the camera can move so close to the plants and can move quickly from one place to another while hanging stable. Now it's doing its thing, and those devices there work for you too. Let's go see them. A hexacopter and a flying wing. What are they doing? With them we can simply bring cameras to higher heights. While we are at a distance of 3–5 meters with the spidercam, we usually work from a height of 20 or 30 meters and have either normal cameras or thermographic cameras, i.e. thermal imaging cameras, with us, which are not used so much for
breeding issues here, but for questions related to the fertilization of plants With more sustainability through fertilizer savings. The greenness of a crop, which is different in different places, says something about how much nitrogen fertilizer should be added for the next fertilization, for example. And the other device can also do something special. That can do something else, it is typically set up a bit higher up, around 80 meters above the ground.
The Wingtra takes off vertically like the hexacopter drone, but can then switch and fly like an airplane more energy-efficient, faster and can then also take pictures of the population from a height of 80 meters, and this is then used again for classifications, such as the fertilization status on the Field is. Is it realistic that farmers will have such devices next to the tractor in the future? It is likely that the farmers themselves will not own it, but that it will probably become a tool that is used by contractors who examine the condition of the fields from time to time and then make recommendations for action. Make the maps out of it and then contribute to a more sustainable agriculture by telling the farmers where perhaps more or less fertilizing should be done. So that's more of something you rent.
Maybe that's something back there that farmers will be able to buy one day. That could be such a helper, exactly. The robot here does the weeding for the farmers. How exactly does it do that? It does this by knowing where to go and where to weed specifically.
This is a project that deals with improved sustainability in agriculture so that you can only work more precisely where you have to work. So you take work away from the farmers? I don't think the farmers would necessarily be sad if they had to weed less. And how does he now know what to take and what to leave behind? He could also uproot the crops. In the case of the robot, this will later be controlled by camera systems. This is a prototype that was developed by robotics students, where the main focus is on further developing the autonomous control of the vehicle so that the drone basically gets the signal where to go. And then it could orient itself, drive where it needs to, and then carry out an action that has to be done there, e.g. weeding or spraying something somewhere or just take a closer look and find out with a higher resolution what kind
of plant diseases might be there are. And why does that help sustainability? Because you can only do something more specifically where you have to do something. That is one reason, the other is because with such devices you can look there in the field to see whether there is really a big problem, so that you then look as a whole, if a certain plant disease, a certain fungal disease has gotten into somewhere, then you have to treat the whole field, and you just have to be sure whether a damage threshold has actually been exceeded. And something like that can be determined very well with these machines, because they can look relatively close
and then take action themselves. In other words, fewer pesticides and fewer fungicides are needed if you can work more precisely and weed more precisely. Exactly, the idea is that you can achieve higher precision with such machines and then save pesticides, fungicides in general and also fertilizers, so that agriculture becomes more sustainable. This is now a development that is still going on.
How much of it is a long way off and how much is already a reality? Such techniques have already been implemented in agriculture. But mainly on tractor implements. But more and more research institutes are working with such similar, smaller robots, which then drive through the field with less ground pressure and then also do less soil compaction. And that is a development that we are currently seeing that in ten or twenty years will really have arrived in the field on a large scale.
For farmers, such developments are still a long way off, but could soon become a reality. Thank you, Achim Walter. Research is also being carried out on animals to find out what digital tools, among other things, could be used there for future agriculture. And that's what they do over there, in these stables - and that's where we're going now. We are here at AgroVet-Strickhof, a cooperation between ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich and the Strickhof agricultural school. What ETH is particularly interested in here are the cows and thus the calves. With me is now Katrin Giller, senior assistant in the research group for animal nutrition.
For example, what are you doing with the calves here? They are only in the rearing phase. These are future candidates for our experiments, which we then want to use to test certain feedstuffs. Then they are either used in experiments for beef cattle or for dairy cows. These are the animals we work with, mainly. So they still have to grow a little.
The big ones are there in the stable, and now let's see how you work with them. There are 140 cows in this research barn, and they eat something different from cows in normal barns. We do a lot of feeding experiments to investigate the potential of alternative or not as well used feeds. These would be by-products of the food industry, for example.
There are press residues from oil or juice production, for example, or very protein-rich microalgae, with which one could, for example, replace the soy in the ration of dairy cows or beef cattle. This means that the goal is not to feed as much potential food that we could eat ourselves. Exactly. The aim is to reduce the competition between food for humans and feed for animals in order to conserve the scarce resources, because they are simply limited. You brought a couple of examples that we could look at. Exactly. Here are two examples of alternative sources of protein.
First of all, there is the pumpkin seed press cake that is left over from the pumpkin seed oil production process. And then here we have spirulina. This is a microalga that contains a lot of protein, and therefore both products are actually very well suited to replace soy in the ration of dairy cows or beef cattle.
Here we have pomegranate pomace. This is also a residue from food production, i.e. from pomegranate juice production. And we are currently using it in a research project, where we want to see whether it can possibly help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane production.
And the cows like that? Also rather than grass, for example? So, when it comes to spirulina, it has to be said that some actually really enjoyed eating it. They were all smeared in green, so you could see very clearly that they ate it, with those here we were a bit worried that it was too hard for them and they might not like to eat it, but we have now found that it works without a problem. And there you have something else that you use for your research. What's this? This is a holster that can be used to measure rumination activity. This goes on the animal's head, and in here over the noseband is a small tube filled with liquid. And whenever the animal chews, the liquid is pushed upwards.
A pressure is created, which is measured here in a pressure sensor, and this is then recorded. And on the basis of these patterns, which are created by the pressure, one can then infer whether the animal has eaten or whether it has ruminated or whether it has even drunk. And with it you can then see how high the feed intake is. When we are here in the barn, of course, we have the weighing troughs, so we can easily determine the feed intake for each animal individually. But if we now make experiments where the animals are on the pasture, e.g. even on the alp, and the animals have such a halter on, then we can estimate afterwards how big the bites are that such an animal takes and then count the bites and use them to calculate or estimate how much the animal has eaten.
And of course that is also helpful if you want to see whether the animals in the pasture meet their needs or whether you have to feed them, and if so, how much. So it's about feeding these animals here and how to reduce the production of methane they emit. To do this, you make experiments back there. Let's go there.
In this high-tech barn, a lot is already running digitally, for example this feed pushing robot, and now we are in a high-tech laboratory where the cows are inside. We see them here on the screen because we mustn't disturb them while we're here. What are the cows experiencing there? The animals are now in the respiratory chambers, these are self-contained systems.
Fresh air is supplied with a defined composition of the various gases. And in the exhaust air we can then measure and calculate how much carbon dioxide and how much methane, i.e. how much of these greenhouse gases, the animals produce. So we can just test how the various feeds can affect this methane production.
Because meat and milk production is responsible for a large part of the production of greenhouse gases. Exactly, it is. Well, it is also one of the goals of the United Nations, i.e. the sustainable development goals. Climate protection is a very big issue or, in general, a production that is sustainable. And with our research we want to make a contribution to achieving these goals.
By looking at what possibilities there are to improve sustainability, on the one hand in the feeding of farm animals and thus also in the production of food of animal origin. So what do you have to feed the animals so that they emit as few greenhouse gases as possible? So, we made experiments, with hazel leaves and with grape leaves. They worked relatively well.
However, one then has to feed such quantities that it would be difficult to feed it to every animal around the world in these quantities. And that is why it is important that we do further research and find feed that then has an even better effect. So there is still a lot of research to be done. And probably also out in the field again, how to produce as much of this feed as possible.
Thank you, Katrin Giller. So, when you study agricultural sciences, you also have a lot to do with animals. Ideally, these animals, which you can see through the door, do not even notice much of the research. They are perfectly normal farm animals. They give milk and meat.
So while studying agricultural science you are in the stable, in the field or in the lecture hall. Then you are a farmer, work for a federal office or do research on agricultural systems somewhere abroad. The career prospects after this degree are very diverse. We want to talk about this at the end of this anniversary program. We are back on the platform at the institute and have changed something for my three guests. All three are agricultural scientists trained at ETH Zurich. Rhea Beltrami is Head of the Agriculture Department of the Canton of Zurich. She takes care of the canton's agricultural policy. Before that she was chief buyer at McDonald's and worked for the farmers' association. Michael Feitknecht is head of the crop production department
at the Fenaco agricultural cooperative. Fenaco sells production equipment for agriculture. For a long time, Feitknecht worked for the agricultural group Syngenta abroad. Robert Finger is basically our host here. He is Professor of Agricultural Policy and Agricultural Economics at ETH Zurich and Chairman of the World Food System Center, the competence center at ETH Zurich, which bundles the competencies around sustainable agricultural and food systems from different departments. You've told me that lately you've had very little personal interaction here. Are you happy to have people around you again? That is definitely a good thing, and in fact we have had online lectures, interaction with employees and project partners online for a year now.
It's nice to be here again. Of course, it's also nice to meet familiar faces again. Some of you already got to know each other during your studies. You are the only one in this group who stayed at ETH Zurich. Why actually? Why didn't you go away? Maybe Fenaco didn't make me an offer. No, kidding aside. It's an extremely exciting job! For me personally, I have a great
opportunity here to work at the interface between agricultural sciences and economics, but also with politics and economics. And that's a lot of fun, both in training, in teaching and in research. So that's a great position. That's why I'm happy to be here.
And then there is also the World Food System Center, which has been around since 2012. There you are looking for sustainable solutions for global food security. What has it achieved so far, what have you been able to achieve with it? Yes, it was extremely beneficial. We are currently 46 professorships at ETH Zurich from seven different departments,
Eawag and Empa, who deal with sustainable agricultural and food systems in the narrower and broader sense. And what we have achieved is that we work together a lot in the area of research into sustainable solutions for agricultural and food systems, but also in training. And that is also the center with which we interact a lot with the world around us. We interact with industry, with society, and with other researchers in Switzerland and abroad. This is our platform, which makes us extremely visible.
Here, too, we would like to work together with our environment and be able to network very well. Work together, for example with the canton or with the economy. Have you worked together before? Yes, we have.
In the implementation of agricultural policy, of course, there are always questions that arise during implementation that were not considered when writing the law or regulation. As a canton or as a federal government, you are happy if you can fall back on such an institution and then receive an answer to the questions. We also see great benefits from such a system on the part of business. A specific example are topics related to new trends such as “vertical farming”. The times from research to market are getting shorter and shorter; it no longer takes ten years for a technology to hit the market.
You really have to work in a network so that business and research can work together with startups and spin-offs relatively quickly and come onto the market. At the same time, you have to have the framework for politics and legislation. Because there is no point in bringing an automatic robot onto the field without a statutory regulation as to whether it is allowed to drive itself. We see great benefits from these networked systems there. You say that it goes much faster from research to implementation today.
What has changed there? Does it have to go faster and faster? I think the challenges of today's society are so complex that we can only get ahead in partnerships. The economy cannot solve this, neither can politics alone or research. Therefore, I think that it is really very important to develop the rails in parallel and together from the beginning in order to get to the market quickly. Society is so fast-paced that you have to get to the market really quickly. I also think the need is different than it was 50 years ago. Back then, the main goal in agriculture was for people not to be hungry.
Today the need is very different. One would like to have healthy, sustainably produced, animal-friendly, climate-friendly food - and relatively cheap, or as cheap as possible. This is a major challenge that did not exist in the past on such a scale. And also the speed at which these challenges are approaching us. A concrete example is climate change, which really quickly shows where the gaps are.
Also towards agricultural production that can provide for the people, but that is still sustainable and then has to take into account the rapidly changing social trends. And here we need a good, scientifically sound basis extremely quickly so that things can be implemented. Whether in administration, politics or industry. We want to be a hub for this and also work together on solutions and leave landmarks in training so that we can take students with us at an early stage and integrate them into such a system. There are always hurdles to overcome. Be it in politics, keyword agricultural policy 22+, which just didn't get through parliament. Or the economy, which might say that one must above all save now and cannot respond to sensitivities or demands from research.
How do you do it, Ms. Beltrami, how do you manage to implement research findings ? If you work together in an interdisciplinary manner and think and act in a network, then there will always be solutions. Even if you probably can't just pull it out of the drawer.
That is the big advantage of this network. What ETH Zurich also does well is to train really outstanding specialists. For example, I always enjoy hiring graduates from ETH Zurich. Because they bring along this networked and interdisciplinary way of thinking.
They are not just technical experts, they can also connect things, work together in an interdisciplinary manner and stick with them in a solution-oriented manner. What do you bring with you from your studies that still occupy you today in your work at the Canton of Zurich? The passion for agriculture. It's still there. With every semester you get more infected by this agricultural virus, and I'm taking that with me. Also that there is always a solution.
Even if it's not exactly clear where to go. My path at ETH Zurich taught me that you can find a solution if you work together. Even if it's just the lowest common denominator.
Because even that is also a solution. Michael Feitknecht, you just nodded on the subject of passion for agriculture. You have a farming background and grew up on a farm in Ticino. Has the way already been prepared? It is of course the case that if you grow up on a farm and deal with agriculture every day, then at some point the question arises whether you should go to ETH Zurich. It's a family tradition with us, we're now the third generation, my sister and me. My father and grandfather also studied here.
So did you almost have to? We didn't have to, we were lucky to. And that's always a good way, if there are several siblings on a farm, you can aim for a professional activity that is close to agriculture by studying at ETH Zurich. And, as you mentioned, you are in the field and in the stable during your studies, which is extremely important. Because that brings with it this practical relevance, which is very important later in business. Before the interview, you also said that your sister is actually the best agricultural scientist in your family. Right, she always finished best of all of us.
So when it comes to our family, women are definitely the better agronomists. All of you have to think outside the box, have a global view. What are the challenges that have to be tackled in the near future in order to find solutions? From my point of view, one of the biggest challenges in our food system is that there is increasingly a gap between town and country. And that raises a lot of issues, on different levels.
On the part of consumers and citizens, one of the greatest challenges of the next few years is that we restore the understanding of these systems and one understands that there are actually no black and white solutions, but that we have to find interdisciplinary solutions together, together with partnerships from administration, private individuals and politics. How do you fill the rifts between city and country in the large canton of Zurich, where it has both? Do you go to the farmers in the country yourself? Of course. I am also someone who likes to put on my rubber boots from time to time and go to see them on site. And I think it is important for agricultural scientists not only to be able to think strategically and conceptually, but also to make an effort to get an idea of problems or challenges on site.
To come back to your previous question. Climate change will preoccupy us a lot, also because of the extremes, because most of the agriculture is still taking place outdoors as we know. The extreme weather conditions are becoming more and more frequent, sometimes too wet, sometimes too hot. And these problems have to be tackled globally, but also nationally. How can you adapt Swiss agriculture to such changes? What are the next focal points at ETH Zurich in order to be able to tackle such challenges? So, on the one hand, we have these ever-increasing expectations of the products that are produced, that are consumed, the effects on the environment, but also in the social field, in terms of agricultural production and the entire food sector. At the same time, however, we are observing that these production resources are coming under increasing pressure from climate change. But also other things like erosion, the loss of biodiversity. And that is an area of tension
where it becomes more and more difficult to navigate, and where there are a lot of trade-offs, i.e. conflicting goals. If I might use new technologies to increase production, then the environmental impact might be negatively impacted or other trade-offs might arise. And we are working on finding solutions in the medium to long term and also testing out where something like this can go and what production systems may look like in the future.
They don't necessarily have to be the same as they are today or only slightly adapted. We have to, and very often do, think outside of this box. So you have to think very networked and talk to each other a lot in agricultural sciences. I see that this study programme also greatly encourages this.
These were three agricultural scientists with the most varied of professions here with me on the podium. Many Thanks. 150 years of agricultural sciences at ETH Zurich: We tried to immerse ourselves a little in this film. We were in the vineyard with the President of the Federal Council and the ETH President, we were on the road with researchers, with professors and we were immersed in the world of agricultural sciences. And from now on, when I'm eating, I might think about where it comes from and whether there is a little bit of ETH Zurich in it.
Because that's quite possible, the longer, the more. That's it, at least from me. Now the event continues below with various webinars by the various research groups presenting their current work.
Take part in a virtual aperitif where you can meet alumni, researchers and other guests. Everything online but still as cordial and interesting as possible. Thank you for watching and enjoy the rest of the event.