Various solutions for sustainable food production

Annie Drottberger is an enterprising doctoral student and teacher who is extremely passionate about utilizing research. At the Department of Biosystems and Technology at SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) in Alnarp she is researching into how businesses in the horticultural industry specialising in vegetable growing absorb knowledge and innovations. In the long term it is about working together on various solutions in order to attain sustainable food production.

“For me it’s very important that the research benefit the businesses. I have extensive experience from working closely with business owners in developing their business and seeing opportunities. Sustainability issues have always been very close to my heart. It’s a matter of creating a better understanding of the various production systems, seeing what new technologies are coming, highlighting why a certain development is taking place and showing that there are different solutions,” says Annie.

She grew up in Hjärup, just outside Alnarp, and in 2006 she gained a Master’s in Horticultural Science and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration.

“I’ve always liked food and been interested in food production. During my education it was very interesting when business administration came in and you could raise your horizons and see the entire food system, agricultural policy, the market, environmental impact etc.  For me it’s always been great to look at humans and connect them to the broader perspective.”

After graduating she started work with the County Administrative Board in Jämtland, with business support for agriculture and rural development. After that she spent about 12 years with LRF (Federation of Swedish Farmers), with an emphasis initially on the horticultural industry and later on business development, in order to contribute to increased food production in Skåne.

“It was in 2018 that I found my current doctoral position at Alnarp and decided to intensify and develop my knowledge in the field of horticultural science. In my research it’s now very much about absorption of knowledge and technical innovations in the field of horticulture. In my first study I’ve looked at the cultivation of leafy vegetables in three different systems: open-air cultivation, greenhouse cultivation and vertical cultivation.”

Development of various systems

All three systems have embraced new technologies in different ways. In greenhouse and vertical cultivation you will find LED lighting and AI, whilst in outdoor cultivation you will find technology in which GPS is used. Annie says that there is now a major development in the field of vertical cultivation, whereby you grow in the actual stores.

“We’re now studying a company called Swegreen, which has greenhouses inside ICA Maxi stores in Stockholm and Linköping. The greenhouses are behind glass in the fruit & vegetable department. The company sells the equipment to the store, and trains the staff so they can sow their own rosemary, put it into bags and display it in the store. Most of it involves automatic remote handling, and control is via cloud services. Growing in stores is a way of avoiding logistical problems, and it allows consumers to see where products come from.

Crucial for knowledge and innovation

In order for knowledge and innovations to benefit companies, Annie believes it is important that there be a close dialogue between universities, authorities and companies.

“It can be about running projects in collaboration with the companies, involving workshops, seminars and field trips. Ensure that the advice is practical and that the companies feel supported by society through municipalities investing in the purchase of Swedish products”, says Annie.

Annie says she feels the companies she has encountered are very knowledgeable. The challenge for some companies lies in having the skills to handle the new technology or to make it work with existing technology. It is also about being able to take on board costs and risks and having the courage to do so.

“The bigger companies are generally in a better position to invest in new technology. Other companies choose to invest in new crops or a more artisanal form of production that means having a lot of employees is something valuable.”

Looking into the future

Looking into the future, Annie believes there will be increased production of vegetables, which will become part of the protein shift.

“I believe in more technology in the various systems, especially in the field of indoor cultivation, as we’ll need to be able to grow more in cities or other places. We see extreme weather as being one reason. We’ll be seeing vertical plantations in containers or greenhouses on roofs.”

The technology will be an important part of becoming more efficient in order to achieve increased production. “It’s equally important to have a variety of cultivation systems, and for everyone to get the right conditions for development,” Annie explains.

Link to knowledge and experience

The next step for Annie is to finish her thesis and to defend it this year. Through her teaching work she sees herself as a future link in imparting her knowledge and experience when training future horticultural engineers and horticulturalists. As far as future research is concerned, politics is an attractive field.

“I think it would have been interesting to be able to conduct research whereby you feel you can influence decision-makers and maybe bring about a law that makes things easier for companies. Because it’s about our investing in the right things in order to attain a good level of food production for future generations.”

Learn more about Annie and her research.



Annie Drottberger
Foto: Mårten Svensson

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