Precision farming may drive down food prices, Commission claims

Commission sources warned that if the precision farming opportunity is not exploited by Europe then someone else will. [Bev Currie/Flickr]

Precision farming practices in the EU could play a role in driving food prices down, European Commission sources told EURACTIV.com.

Precision farming is based on the optimised management of inputs in a field according to actual crop needs. It involves data-based technologies, including satellite positioning systems like GPS, remote sensing, and the internet, to manage crops and reduce the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water.

Based on the need to “produce more with less”, precision farming is emerging as an innovation-driven solution and the introduction of the new technologies helps farmers to manage their farms in a sustainable way, taking into account the “slightest detail” of everyday farming.

Speaking at EURACTIV last week, Tasos Haniotis, a senior official at the European Commission’s agriculture directorate, noted that now the EU has the comparative advantage in precision farming technologies, it should grab the chance and take agriculture a step forward.

No quick and easy fix to food price issue, EU official admits

There will be no easy solution to high food prices in Europe unless the supply chain is made transparent and farmers get organised to take a bigger slice of the market, a European Commission official has warned.

Referring to the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he warned, “If we miss this opportunity, the next time that we will have this discussion, somebody else will have picked up the agenda”.

Unlike the US

Haniotis explained that the debate regarding the application of precision farming practices in Europe differs compared to the US.

“These are completely different environments,” he said. “If by precision farming we mean that every farmer has a drone and play with it in their free time and in the meantime they do something with their nice, big tractor, this is the US farm model and has nothing to do with the European model,” he added.

According to the EU official, Europe is at the forefront of technology when it comes to satellites. He noted that the last satellite put into orbit, Sentinel-2, would pass over every field in Europe every five days and will provide this information free-of-charge to everybody, from smallholders to big farming enterprises.

Commission: Technology will make farming more transparent to consumers

Technologies can enhance “transparent farming” and, as a result, better inform European consumers about the food they eat, a European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.com.

“The requirement is access to the internet, which makes it extremely important for rural areas, whether they are small or big farmers because it doesn’t only help their farming practices, it helps their access to schools, to hospitals, to transportation, to everything,” he pointed out.

In addition, he focused on the need for farm advisors who will analyse the data of a farm and help farmers, both large and small ones, know more about the nutrient balance of their soil.

But he noted that this is a “weak spot” for many member states, and underlined that all farmers should benefit from that, not only the rich ones who will pay private advisors.

Lowering food prices?

Whether producing more with less input could have a positive impact on food prices is not clear yet. However, Commission sources claim that precision farming could “potentially” drive food prices down.

Commission sources told EURACTIV that food price formation in particular is a complex mechanism that depends on various factors, notably related to the overall market demand and supply conditions and the transmission of agricultural prices along the whole food supply chain.

Germany’s cheap food prices come at a cost, study finds

Germans love to do their food shopping at discount retailers. But the costs incurred in order to provide such cheap prices are enormous and society is paying through the nose for it. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Against this background, precision farming, which has the potential to increase the productivity and efficiency of farming and reduce production costs, may potentially play a role in driving food prices down, although the magnitude of the effect is difficult to quantify,” the Commission sources noted.

The same sources added that farming sustainability is increased at the same time, which can contribute to the long-term production stability. This in turn could lead to more stable food prices.