The agri-food sector is facing a revolutionary transformation within a complex operating environment characterised by technological and economic change, consumer concerns, climate change, and global value chains. The so-called Digital Farms, which combine precision farming techniques with the use of digital and high-tech tools, have been promoted by the EU Agenda to help farmers work more precisely, efficiently, sustainably, and in turn, make rural communities more attractive. Yet, the use of advanced digital and technological solutions in the agri-food sector requires workers to develop new knowledge and skills.
To support regional policy-makers, VET and agri-food experts in this process, on March 26th, the AER held a mutual-learning webinar, ‘Innovation and Farming: Applications of Advanced Manufacturing in the Food Value Chain‘. The event was part of the series of webinars on EU funding opportunities organised within the Erasmus + project Skillnet. It brought together 55 experts in the field and allowed them to exchange and learn about available opportunities to apply innovative digital and technological solutions to the food value chain, through the uptake of new skills and knowledge in particular.
Experiences, resources, and challenges for a digital agri-food sector
As presented by Miguel De Porras, Director at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FIBL, European policies and tools offer opportunities to exploit the potential of new technologies in the agriculture sector. The new Common Agricultural Policy has identified the need to increase competitiveness and agricultural productivity in a sustainable way through the use of new technologies as one of its key objectives. Additionally, the Farm2Fork’s objective to increase production of organic food by 25% inevitably requires the uptake of new digital and technical solutions and, in turn, of new skills and partnerships.
The need to boost new skills for digital farming has been discussed during a dedicated seminar held by the EIP-AGRI, which highlighted that the sector workforce presents a low skill level in comparison with the digital solutions available. In this context, a series of EU-funded projects were presented as key initiatives to lead the digital transition while facilitating the exchange of knowledge among farmers through activity demonstrations and online resources, as well as compiling a database of the digital tools available to farm advisors. Yet, findings from the DESIRA project, which aims to assess the social, economic, environmental, and governance variables influencing the impact of technologies, reinforce the idea that innovation in the agri-food sector must be tailored to specific local contexts.
EU-wide partnerships and research and innovation initiatives provide farmers, businesses, research institutes and academia, and policy-makers with increasing support to launch pilots and gain expertise in the field. In this context, George Beers, Horticultural Engineer at the Wageningen University and Research, presented two Horizon2020 EU-wide projects that offer new evidences, resources and networks for the agri-food sector and its practitioners. The IoF2020 project aims to demonstrate and deliver the benefits of high-tech tools focusing on five agriculture sectors: arable crops, dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat. Results from several use cases demonstrate the value of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for the European food and farming sectors. IoT enables the use of different digital prototypes with different flows of information & solutions and integrates them into existing farm systems. Use cases do not only provide information on technological tools, but also why these tools are relevant for the sector. All the information has been collected and made available to farmers and practitioners in the online ‘Use Case Catalogue’.
The SmartAgriHub project is a network of Digital Innovation Hubs consisting of 2000 Competences Centres and 28 Flagship Innovation Experiments (FIE). The project offers a space to develop ideas, prototypes and a place in the innovative smart farming techniques market. At the same time, it embeds a network of Regional Clusters, which ensure that newly developed knowledge and tools are accessible to local farmers.
Lastly, Mladen Petres, Assistant Provincial Secretary of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry of the Province of Vojvodina in Serbia, shared the measures launched in the region to further boost the agricultural sector. The region launched direct subsidies for farmers to increase the purchase of relevant up-to-date equipment in the sector, ranging from greenhouse infrastructure to start-up programs for farmers. Additionally, the AgroSense platform was launched by the BioSense Institute to provide farmers with digital services, enabling them to monitor from satellite crop production to digitalised data on the chemical condition of the soil and, eventually, to facilitate the application of subsidies within the region.
Hence, meaningful opportunities and practices are available to help European regions and farmers increase their agricultural productivity while protecting the environment and ensuring the inclusiveness of the workforce. However, persisting challenges were highlighted in debate too. Among these, the need for governments to increase their financial support for a just transition into digital and sustainable agriculture, and the need to up-skill workers, including those involved in the daily management and maintenance of the digital tools.
Open and Future EU Funding Opportunities and Initiatives
- Become an AER member
- Apply to contribute as partner event to the EU Green Week 2021 by 15th April 2021
- Apply to the AGRIP-SIMPLE-2021 Open Call for proposals for simple programmes 2021: Promotion of agricultural products (topics in internal market and in third countries) by 11th May 2021
- Apply to the SmartAgriHubs Open Call: Prepare Innovation Experiments for Digital Transformation with Teams in the Agri-Food Economy by 26th May 2021
- Apply to the SmartAgriHubs Open Call: Restart the European Agri-Food Economy after the COVID-19 Crisis by 26th May 2021
- Apply to the SmartAgriHubs Open Call: Expand the SmartAgriHubs Community Network by 26th May 2021
- Apply to the Joint Open Call ERA-NET: Circularity in mixed crops and livestocks farming systems with emphasis on climate change mitigation and adaption by 26th May 2021
- Apply to the agROBOfood Open Call2: Innovation Experiments by 31st May 2021
- Apply to the UCPM Open Projects Grant Call: Network Partnership by 1st June 2021
- Apply to the SOCPL Open Call for Projects: Information and Training Measures for Workers’ Organisations by 9th June 2021
- Join the CityZen impact workshop: ‘Inclusive Governance to Foster Urban Farming’ on 19-20 April 2021
- Join the EU Green Week 2021 from 3rd May to 13th June
- Join the IAMO Forum 2021: Agrifood systems in the bioeconomy from 7th to 9th June 2021
- Join the FarmFit event for young entrepreneurs in the Agri-food market (end of 2021)
- Access the Future of the Common Agricultural Policy proposal by the European Commission
- Access the European Network for Rural Development CAP post-2020 Portal
- Access the new Horizon Europe Programme
- Access the new EU Action Plan on Organic Production in the EU
- Access the new initiatives launched by the European Commission to boost the organic farming sector
Photo by Naseem Buras Unsplash
This webinar was organised as part of the SKILLNET series of webinars on EU funding opportunities. SKILLNET is a project funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission. Through building transnational and cross-sectional partnerships, SKILLNET aims to strengthen the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system’s capacity to design high-quality VET programmes tailored to current societal needs. To this end, after each webinar, a bulletin with open and upcoming EU opportunities is circulated among relevant stakeholders.