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A container ship on the high seas.
World Food Day 2017

From field to plate

Reading time: 12 minutes

Each year, approximately 4 billion metric tons of food are produced worldwide. But how much do people actually consume? Answer: just two-thirds of it. The resulting cost to the economy and the environment is huge. To mark the UN’s World Food Day on October 16, we take a look at some areas in which Bosch is helping to improve sustainability in food production, transport, storage, and consumption.

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Illustration of food waste worldwide, amounting to 4 billion tons a year.
Illustration of the cost of worldwide food waste amounting to 2.6 trillion US dollars.
Illustration of annual water use for wasted food amounting to 1.7 trillion full bath tubs a year.
Illustration of how much hectares of land produced but uneaten food occupies: about 1.4 billion hectares, close to 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land area.

Early beginnings

Calf rearing at the Bosch Farm, Mooseurach (Germany), 1926
Calf rearing at the Bosch Farm, Mooseurach (Germany), 1926

The link between a technological company and agriculture might not be very obvious. But in fact, Bosch and agriculture go back a long way.

For Robert Bosch himself, the subject was one that occupied a lot of his spare time. After the first world war, he set up the Bosch Farm: “Back then, it seemed to me a great feat to transform a mere bog into a land of milk and honey,” he said. His plan was to turn a tract of poor land in Upper Bavaria into a model farming estate. Using state-of-the-art technology to produce high-quality products that could be sold in the region, the project got under way with the help of special machines, and the newly developed process of silage making was introduced. Robert Bosch also made use of what we would now call eco-friendly methods in creating an environment that would attract hosts of birds, thus providing a natural means of pest control.

From the farm to hydraulics

A motorized plow for tilling the fields at the Bosch Farm, 1927.
A motorized plow for tilling the fields at the Bosch Farm, 1927.

In 1942, the company ventured into the new territory of equipment for agricultural machinery. In the early 1950s, the manual labor involved in German agriculture, from sowing to harvest, prompted efforts to come up with clever technological aids that would simplify work in the fields. The first such aid was a hydraulic lift which used the tractor’s engine to lift and lower the plow.

Nowadays, however, it is no longer hydraulics that form the link between Bosch and agriculture, but robotics, sensor technology, and connectivity. For example, the Bosch sensors that have become common in automobiles and smartphones can also be used in asparagus fields to record weather conditions. This information can be transmitted to an app to determine the right time for harvesting, watering, or covering the crop — increasing productivity and avoiding waste.

From asparagus to oysters

Another example of Bosch technology used in sustainable agriculture is provided by an Australian start-up called “The Yield.” This new agri-tech company uses sensors, data management, and user-friendly apps to create novel tools for agriculture and aquaculture – e.g. in oyster farming. As a partner and investor, Bosch manages the data and supplies the technology for collecting and recording it.

Connected technology for aquaculture

A woman standing in water, harvesting oysters.
Oyster farming in Australia.

Oysters are filter feeders. When it rains, they accumulate contaminants from agricultural run-off. As this is a potential health risk, oyster harvests are often at risk of being stopped by industry regulators. Where oyster farmers previously relied on estimates or prior experience, the Bosch solution has now fundamentally changed oyster farming: The ability to collect and report localized data has reduced closures in the Tasmanian oyster industry by up to 30 percent, and helped to increase productivity and sustainability. Researchers are also using the data to improve the management of diseases such as Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS).

Next step: clean shelf, clean environment

When buying sugar or flour, it’s not unusual to find traces of these products in the shopping bag or on the kitchen counter. This is not only a nuisance to the customer, but also a source of waste. To put an end to this, Bosch has recently presented a sustainable innovation: the world’s first sealed paper packaging solution. In collaboration with the Swedish paper specialist BillerudKorsnäs, Bosch Packaging Technology has come up with dust-tight packaging for dry products such as sugar, grains, flour, or powders. Using sustainable mono-material paper, the packaging contains no additional polymers.

The new sustainable packaging is dust-tight, enhancing product protection and keeping supermarket and kitchen shelves clean. It keeps dust and insects out, and prevents spillage along the entire supply chain. In addition, the mechanical properties of the paper reduce environmental impact.

Bosch solutions for transport: smart containers

A significant portion of global food production is spoiled before it reaches the consumer; the largest loss occurs during transportation. What to do about it?

A box of bananas with a sensor inside that monitors the conditions.
Sensors in packing boxes monitor conditions and allow to adjust them in time if necessary.

In collaboration with Dole, the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, Bosch has carried out three smart container tests focusing on the monitoring and subsequent ripening of bananas. The packing boxes are fitted with wireless sensors. Once the pallets have been loaded into the smart container, remote monitoring commences. During sea transport, an interface between an internal sensor network and external communication keeps a constant watch on the quality of the bananas. For example, as soon as the temperature changes, a remote intervention is made and an alert is sent. The emergency signal is sent to the monitoring center, and the customer (in this case, Dole) can be directly informed.

In smart containers, loss due to perishing is only 20 percent. The advantages are that the quality of goods is constantly monitored and consequently improved.

Cook with care: sustainability in Bosch cafeterias

Cooks at the canteen of the Bosch headquarter in Stuttgart, Germany.
Cooks at the canteen of the Bosch headquarter in Stuttgart, Germany.

According to recent statistics, an astonishing amount of food is wasted. This waste is even more acute in canteens and other large dining facilities that process huge amounts of food.

In Bosch cafeterias worldwide, the people in charge are sensitive to this issue and doing their best to avoid food waste. “We try to plan very carefully what we buy and use”, says Marc Seidel, who is responsible for the cafeteria in Schwieberdingen, Germany.

While hygienic considerations mean that fresh products such as lettuce still have to be thrown away, other food that has been cooked but not served is usually cooled and reused. Dairy products such as milk and yogurt are bought in smaller quantities and used at shorter notice, which helps to reduce food waste.

Summary

From the field to the plate: Bosch is doing its best to increase productivity and ensure sustainability in the field of agriculture, food transport, storage — and consumption.

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