New pioneer center will pave the way for the green transition in agriculture

The Danish National Research Foundation, the Carlsberg Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Lundbeck Foundation and the VILLUM Foundation will, together with top researcher Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, establish a pioneering research center called the Pioneer Center for Landscape Research in Sustainable Agricultural Futures (Land-CRAFT).

Among other things, the new pioneer center will research how changes in agricultural practices can affect nutrient and greenhouse gas flows in the landscape. Photo: Jens Bonderup
Professor Klaus Butterbach-Bahl will head the new pioneer center. Photo: Camilla Brodam

Achieving the goals of the green transformation of agriculture requires detailed knowledge on the effectiveness of greenhouse gas mitigation options at farm and landscape scale as well as an effective targeting of measures. However, the development of mitigation strategies at these scales requires research and funding. Therefore, five of Denmark's largest foundations have joined forces to finance a new research center, which has green transition of agriculture as its main focus. Pioneer Center for Landscape Research in Sustainable Agricultural Futures or Land-CRAFT aims to develop basic research-driven solutions to the green transition in agriculture.

“To make the most of our farmland and reduce the burden on our biodiversity and climate, we must make a significant change in our approach to agriculture. To do that, we need new interdisciplinary knowledge on how we can best and most accurately utilise and cultivate our total agricultural area. Land-CRAFT will help deliver that knowledge,” says Claus Felby, Senior Vice President, Biotech, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The center is established in a collaboration between Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen, and it is part of a national initiative to establish pioneer centers within important research areas. The center will also involve researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and Colorado State University in the United States. The five foundations allocate up to a total of DKK 240 million for the Land-CRAFT initiative.

Diversity through collaboration

“The green transformation of agriculture entails significant reductions in the environmental and climate impact while ensuring that we can provide nutrition for more people. This can only succeed if we better understand the processes that lead to emissions and how they interact in a landscape context,” says Head of Department Jørgen E. Olesen from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University. The Department of Agroecology and the Department of Biology at Aarhus University, will be part of the new center along with departments from University of Copenhagen.

"It is absolutely crucial that we get a better understanding of the interaction between agriculture and nature, so that we can have a more sustainable agriculture, while at the same time restoring some of the nature and biodiversity that has disappeared," explains Hans Brix, Head of Department at the Department of Biology.

To reach a better understanding it is important to include different research disciplines and understandings – building on the joint experiences and capacity of Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen, is one of the forces at the new center.

“Aarhus University has solid roots within classical agricultural research whereas University of Copenhagen brings in supplementary competences for advanced process knowledge. So, it will create diversity joining researchers from different universities, different traditions, and different fields of expertise to collaborate and thus reach the best possible results,” says Professor Per Lennart Ambus from Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at Copenhagen University.

Supports the green transition

The Land-CRAFT Center will support the green transition of agriculture by establishing the necessary basic and interdisciplinary understanding of the processes affecting agricultural production and the associated environmental (e.g. nitrate leaching), climate (greenhouse gas emissions) and biodiversity impacts. In particular, the center will achieve these objectives by assessing how changes in agricultural practices are affecting nutrient and GHG fluxes at landscape scales. It will combine on-site and remote sensing observation and modeling tools to identify suitable agroecological approaches which allow for effective climate mitigation as well as adaptation of agricultural systems to climate change. The overall aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, while restoring the health of managed and adjacent natural ecosystems and allowing for increasing agricultural productivity. Particular focus will be on understanding and mapping carbon and nitrogen balances in agricultural landscapes and the associated emissions of nitrous oxide and leaching of nitrate, the two most important environmental impacts associated with the agricultural nitrogen use.

“The green transition will require not only reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and increased storage of carbon in the soils, but also lead to new and changed demands for agricultural production of food and biomass. Achieving all this simultaneously is a complex, challenging and ambitious task. Land-CRAFT will deliver important knowledge and understanding for this urgent part of the green transformation” says Professor Claus Beier, Head of Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at Copenhagen University.

Top researcher in the lead

Professor Klaus Butterbach-Bahl comes from a position as Head of the Division of Terrestrial Biogeochemistry at the Department of Meteorology, Atmospheric Environmental Research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, and he will take the lead as Head of the Center. He is highly regarded for his research in biogeochemistry of both natural and managed ecosystems, and he has been a leading force in the development of nitrogen cycling processes, in understanding of nitrous oxide emissions from land to atmosphere and how to measure and model environmental N losses and its impacts on ecosystems at various spatio-temporal scales. He has an extensive international network of projects around the world. He is thus one of the most competent researchers in the science fields that must support the green transition of agriculture and land use, not only in Denmark, but globally.

“There is a strong need to integrate process knowledge on environmental impacts of agriculture with landscape management in order to support the required transformational change of the agriculture sector and to ensure its environmental sustainability. At the same time, it is necessary to enforce the adaptation to climate change to ensure food security. These challenges need to be addressed within a short-time period and calls for a center such as Land-CRAFT. Land-CRAFT represents a unique opportunity as it will identify and quantify the multiple environmental as well as socio-economic benefits associated with the change of agricultural practices at the farm and landscape scales, thereby having a specific focus on the climate imprint of agriculture,” says Klaus Butterbach-Bahl.

“With Klaus Butterbach-Bahl in the lead, we are now establishing an interdisciplinary center where the country's top researchers in agriculture, biology and biogeochemistry will collaborate and utilize new technologies to understand how agriculture affects nature and how we can work together to have a more sustainable agriculture, as well as more nature and biodiversity for the benefit of us all,” says Hans Brix.

And there are high expectations for the upcoming pioneer center and the significance it will have in relation to the green transition.

"I have very high expectations for the scientific benefits of this center, which will be the first in the world that, based on the most advanced methods, will uncover the contribution of agriculture to the climate and environmental impact across disciplines," says Jørgen E. Olesen.

For more information, contact:

  • Professor Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel. +45 93508238 or email: 
  • Head of Department Jørgen E. Olesen, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel. +4540821659 or email: 
  • Head of Department Hans Brix, Department of Biology, Aarhus University. Tel. +4528992031 or email:
  • Professor Per Lennart Ambus, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Copenhagen University. Tel. 35336626 or email:
  • Head of Department Claus Beier, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Copenhagen University. Tel. 35334233 or email: