Agrifood Brief: (Data) Space Oddity

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Sharing is caring, they say, and so the EU has set out on a mission to build a common agriculture data space to better aggregate and use key information. But the farming sector’s intergalactic journey to (data) space is long and fraught with obstacles.

To most farmers, digitalisation is not an alien concept. Eight out of ten farmers said they already use at least one digital technology in a recent German survey conducted by the national IT sector association Bitkom.

Seventy-eight per cent also said they see digitalisation as an opportunity to help save costs or make farming more sustainable.

These same benefits are also what the Commission apparently had in mind when it proposed establishing a Common European Agriculture Data Space as part of the European Data Strategy they published in early 2020.

With this strategy, the EU executive has taken on a project of somewhat galactic proportions. It sets out to create a Single Market for data, with common data spaces for agriculture and health, energy, mobility, and a range of other areas.

According to the Commission, the agricultural data space would bring together farmers’ production data, open data, and other public data, for example, soil data, which could then be shared, processed, and analysed.

In this way, the EU executive aims to harness “new opportunities for monitoring and optimising the use of natural resources” and help increase the agricultural sectors’ “economic and environmental performance.”

In reality, though, while this goal is maybe not light-years away, there is still a long road ahead on the EU’s data space trip.

Some examples of agricultural data spaces already exist, for example in Germany, where a state-run platform gives farmers access to the data the government and its agencies have.

However, this is not yet a venue for farmers to share the data they collect on the ground, which would likely be a key feature of an EU-wide data space.

“This is where there is particular scope for action, because of course this is interesting for example for farmers who work on neighbouring segments of land and could then know things like the amount of rainfall on the other parcel,” Bitkom managing director Bernhard Rohleder said during a recent conference.

But at the same time, precisely this idea of sharing their on-farm data is what has many farmers on the fence, and winning them over could be one of the challenges that eclipse the EU’s ambitions.

“If you talk to farmers, they ask: What do I get out of this?” Aline Blankertz, the co-chair of SINE Foundation, an NGO promoting data collaboration, told EURACTIV.

The expert’s assessment is also backed by the German farmers’ survey: Even though 56% said building up a central data platform to help manage farms’ operational data should be a political priority, most said they would not share their data without concrete benefits.

In total, only 1% of respondents were willing to share data without a precondition, 13% said they were not willing to share at all, and the remainder tied their willingness to whether this would bring them additional benefits.

According to Blankertz, these benefits could be long-term such as profiting from the aggregated data that would be available through the platform. Still, many farmers also call for immediate financial benefits in return for their participation.

Moreover, she added, many even fear negative effects and are worried that disclosing on-farm data could help regulators introduce additional or stricter rules.

While farmers are not exactly over the moon when it comes to sharing their information, the EU and member states and regions still have some trust-building and persuading to do to get them onboard the data spaceship.

Meanwhile, there are also several technical hurdles the Commission space cowboys will still have to overcome on their mission, many of them related to standardisation and interoperability.

However, what precisely these will be will depend on what kind of data is included in the platform, Blankertz explained.

“If we are talking about data on yields, for example, this is machine data, so we would need to ensure interoperability between different manufacturers of agricultural machinery,” she said.

In short, the EU executive might want to buckle up and ready some extra jet engines to succeed in its data space mission.

By Julia Dahm

 

Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Agrifood Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering agriculture and food from across Europe. The Agrifood Brief is brought to you by EURACTIV’s Agrifood Team Gerardo Fortuna (@gerardofortuna), Natasha Foote (@NatashaFoote), Julia Dahm (@dahm_julia), and Yaroslava Bukhta (@YaroslavaBukhta)

Podcast

The EURACTIV’s Agrifood Podcast has changed its publishing day and will now come to you every Monday to start the week with your weekly dose of EU’s agriculture and food news from the EURACTIV agri-food team. In the meantime, you can check our latest episode with a focus on the first high-level meeting to strengthen the EU-Turkey agri-trade or our newest special podcast edition on knowledge sharing in the agricultural sector

Agrifood stories of the week

MEPs back one-year trade liberalisation with Ukraine
The European Parliament has endorsed a one-year suspension for all tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian exports, including agricultural products, processed agricultural products, and fruit and vegetables. Gerardo Fortuna and Yaroslava Bukhta have the story.

Farming sector cautious about using CAP funds to drop Russian energy imports
Europe’s farming community gave a lukewarm reception to the possibility, suggested by the European Commission, of transferring up to €7.5 billion from the EU’s farming subsidies to the support measures aimed at overcoming dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Read more.

MEPs ask to pause CAP biodiversity requirements amid Ukraine war
The majority group leaders of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee asked the Commission to consider temporary derogations of the EU’s already adopted agriculture subsidies reform in light of the war in Ukraine. Julia Dahm

EU’s ‘solidarity lanes’ will not ‘significantly’ help Ukraine export, says Ukrainian MP
The recently announced EU measures to help Ukraine export grain despite the Russian blockade of its seaports are not enough as they will be mostly based on the country’s obsolete railways, a Ukrainian lawmaker has told the European Parliament. Yaroslava Bukhta reports.

Yemen’s wheat industry urges international action to avert mass famine
Urgent international action is needed to avert a mass famine in Yemen on a never-before-seen scale caused by the Ukraine war, according to the country’s largest wheat importer, who wrote to leaders ahead of a UN summit this week. Natasha Foote has the story.

EU study: CAP support for ‘couch’ farmers negatively impacts farm communities
Common Agricultural Policy support for landowners not actively engaged in farming has indirectly negatively impacted farming communities, at the same time as the EU continues to haemorrhage farms at an alarming rate, a new EU study has found.

Ukraine minister seeks G7 help to export 40 million tonnes of grain
Global food security and the impact of Russia’s invasion were high on the agenda of the G7 agriculture ministers meeting last week (13-14 May), with Ukrainian minister Mykola Solskyj as a special guest.

Agri-bites

Ending fur in Europe. On Wednesday (18 May), a group of animal welfare NGOs supported the launch of the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) ‘Fur Free Europe’, which calls on the EU lawmakers to ban fur farming and the placement on the market of farmed fur products. The initiative will run from 18 May for one year, and if proponents reach the one million signatures threshold by that time, the petition will be discussed by the European Commission, which can decide to put forward a legislative proposal on the matter.

Salmonella in chocolate products update: A new assessment from the EU’s infectious disease centre (ECDC) and the bloc’s food safety agency (EFSA) reported 266 confirmed and 58 probable cases of salmonella in 11 EU countries, Norway, and the UK, after an outbreak linked to chocolate products made at a Ferrero factory in Arlon, Belgium. Most infections (86.3%) are among children at or younger than 10 years old, and 41.3% of them have been hospitalised. Despite the measures taken, new cases may occur due to the long shelf life and possible storage of products at home, the two agencies inform.

I’ll see you in court. Meanwhile, the food industry watchdog Foodwatch France filed a complaint against Ferrero for the outbreak of salmonella in its chocolate products and Nestlé, whose Buitoni pizzas were found contaminated with E.coli bacteria lately.

Illegal loggers, hide your axes: In a resolution on illegal logging, The European Parliament’s petitions committee (PETI) backed the proposal for an EU Forest Observatory. The Observatory and other data collection improvements could help distinguish between legal and illegal logging, with data and imaging complemented by field inspections.

Sizeable livestock population in the EU: According to the latest figures from the EU’s statistical office Eurostat, there were 142 million pigs, 76 million bovine animals, 60 million sheep and 11 million goats in December 2021, with three big member states – France, Spain, and Germany – rearing the most livestock in Europe.

Money to tackle ASF. A group of Italian MEPs from the ruling party Lega presented a parliamentary question asking the European Commission whether it would consider taking extraordinary economic support measures for the countries affected by the African swine fever (ASF) epidemic, concerning the epidemiological situation that is affecting Italy.

Reducing fertilisers and feed through CAP. The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) has published a new brief reviewing the measures that Member States could use in their CAP Plans to reduce fertiliser and feed dependency.

Danish trip. A delegation of six MEPs from the European Parliament’s agriculture committee will visit Denmark next week (23-25 May) to learn about sustainable and precision farming, animal welfare, biofuel production and carbon capture or the latest research in grass protein in the country.

Ukraine war

Russia keeps stealing grains from Ukraine: The Russian army has already stolen about 400,000 tons of grain from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, which could lead to famine there, according to a Ukrainian Parliament committee. Russian troops are also reportedly using missiles and bomb strikes to destroy elevators, warehouses, agricultural machinery and infrastructure, thus disrupting the sowing campaign.

Ukrainian seeds turned into ashes after Russian missiles: Earlier this week, reports have emerged that Ukraine’s national plant gene bank in Kharkiv had been destroyed by Russian shelling. As of 2021, the Bank had collected more than 150,000 specimens belonging to hundreds of plant and crop species as of 2021, some ancient and preserved only here. According to the latest reports, a major part of the seed collection has been saved, while only a few samples were destroyed.

Poland to support Ukraine export. On Monday (16 May), the agriculture ministers of Poland and Ukraine signed a joint agreement with some specific obligations regarding trade in agri-food products, transport of goods from Ukraine and border controls. The agreement features a set of measures to facilitate Ukrainian export through Poland, including the increase of Polish veterinary inspectors at designated border inspection posts and the revision of the requirements for veterinary control of transit cargoes of grain from Ukraine. “Ukraine has a great task to transport 4 to 5 million tons of grain a month, but the current infrastructure is not prepared for it. We are doing everything to improve this transport”, commented Polish agriculture minister Henryk Kowalczyk.

Deutsche Bahn helps with grain exports from Ukraine: German railway Deutsche Bahn started to support grain exports from Ukraine, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing says. The goods subsidiary DB Cargo is in the process of enabling a “rail bridge” to enable large quantities of agricultural products to be transported to ports on the North Sea and the Adriatic Sea in the future. Read more here.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

AUSTRIA

New agri minister sworn in. Austria’s new agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig was sworn in on Thursday after his predecessor, Elisabeth Köstinger, had unexpectedly stepped down. While chancellor Karl Nehammer already appointed Toschnig to the post last week, his inauguration was delayed due to a COVID-19 infection. More info here.

FRANCE

Two bird flu vaccines being tested in France. As outbreaks of avian influenza hit many farms in France and Europe, two vaccines for ducks are entering the testing phase in France. EURACTIV France’s Hugo Struna has more.

GERMANY

Germany promotes rural mobile network development. Many rural areas in Germany are still struggling with white spots in mobile networks, especially in areas where network development is not economically viable for mobile companies. To tackle this problem, the country’s agriculture and rural development ministry have started efforts to encourage the federal mobile infrastructure operator (MIG) and stakeholders in rural areas to cooperate. As a result, the MIG and the German Farmers’ association have agreed on a model contract to provide plots of land for cell towers to be built on. This “facilitates the acquisition of suitable land parcels and thus enables us to speed up network development,” the MIG’s manager, Ernst Ferdinand Wilmsmann, said in a statement. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

GREECE

Promoting animal welfare in pigs through CAP. On Thursday (12 May), the call for expression of interest in the good handling of inbred pigs was pre-published, following the cooperation with relevant stakeholders. The aim of this call – whose budget amounts to €25 million and comes from the CAP’s second pillar, the rural development programme – is to promote the welfare of productive animals in the inbred pig sector as a main component of sustainability of the farm.(Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

POLAND

Poland and Warsaw strike agreement on wheat exports. During a meeting on Monday, Ukrainian agriculture minister Mykola Solskyy and his Polish counterpart, Henryk Kowalczyk, reached a deal to facilitate grain exports, according to the Ukrainian ministry. Among other things, the two countries agreed to simplify food safety checks of grain shipments at the border, deploy more personnel at border checkpoints, and establish grain transits at border checkpoints.

SPAIN

Spain to present national CAP legislation in June. Spain will table the national legislation to implement the EU Common Agricultural Policy reform in June, agriculture minister Luis Planas announced on Thursday in front of the country’s Senate. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

ITALY

Commission gives go-ahead to agri-state aid package. The European Commission has approved a huge €1.2 billion Italian umbrella scheme to support the agricultural, forestry, fishery and aquaculture sectors in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Under this scheme, the eligible beneficiaries will receive limited amounts of aid as direct grants, tax or payment advantages, repayable advances, and reduction or exemption from the payment of social security and welfare contributions. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

SLOVAKIA

Debate on nutrition labelling slowly starting in Slovakia. Slovak experts agree that the mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling, as set out in the Farm to Fork strategy, can help people make healthy food choices. They perceive the NutriScore model positively. “So far, it is too early to assess what impact it will have, but it is certainly one of the ways to make it easier for people to learn healthy eating habits,” Daniela Minaríková from the Slovak Obesity Association said during a discussion on food labelling organised by  EURACTIV Slovakia. Slovakia usually occupies the lowest position in statistics on chronic diseases. The problems are mainly with cardiovascular and cancer diseases. The European Commission is expected to present a proposal for a harmonised mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling by the end of the year. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

ALBANIA

Albania pledges to meet EU Green Deal targets. Albania is confident it can reach the European Green Deal target of 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030 without negatively impacting farmers or consumers during the transition, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Frida Krifca said. Read the full story. The country is also set to receive €112 of EU funds under the IPARD III initiative to help farmers and rural development.

SERBIA

Serbs told to brace for food and energy shortages. The coming winter will be “the most difficult in the last 70 years,” President Aleksandar Vučić said in a broadcast to the nation on Sunday, adding there could be a risk of food and energy shortages. Read more here.

Events

20 – 22 May | Malta AgriFair

24 May – EU Agrifish Council

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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