The development of precision farming practices will provide the EU with enormous opportunities to increase its productivity, according to a European Commission official.
At the 7th European Innovation Summit (7-10 December) in which EURACTIV was a media partner, EU stakeholders tried to seek ways to fill the innovation gap the EU is currently facing.
The rising demand for agricultural products, combined with the need to protect the environment, has put pressure on the EU executive to find “innovative” ways in the farming sector.
Several stakeholders claim that introducing new technologies in EU farming would help the sector address this challenge.
Precision farming is based on the optimized 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 fertilizers, 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.
According to data provided by the European Agricultural Machinery (CEMA), in Europe, there are 450 new machinery types which employ 135,000 people directly, and 125,000 via distribution and service networks.
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Under the new Common Agricultural Policy for the 2014-2020 period, financial incentives, and support schemes exist under Pillar 2 to promote farmers’ ability to invest in Precision Farming technologies such as, for example, precision fertilizer spreaders.
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Speaking at the summit, Iman Boot, deputy head of Unit in the DG Agriculture and Rural Development, said that despite current difficulties, EU farming has great opportunities.
“We have tremendous challenges in agriculture clearly […] but we have some good ground for optimism. We have fantastic opportunities as well,” Boot noted.
“One opportunity is the promise of precision farming, which offers enormous possibilities to increase our productivity in order to produce more with less input,” he underlined, adding that technology-driven practices have already been developed in the EU.
He added, though, that there are some market barriers which block a further development.
“One immediately asks questions like why should farmers deliver themselves completely to a single company on which they will be dependent? Why would they give their data to a company without being aware of how they will use it?”
Asked by EURACTIV how it would be possible for EU farmers to learn about such new tools, taking into account the lack of web access in rural areas, he said:
“Yes, you are absolutely right. In many EU areas, internet access is a problem and this holds back any development in using big data. So this why under our rural development policy we push this as much as possible and there is EU money available for rolling out broadband in rural areas as well.”
“However, it’s up to the member states to decide what to invest in detail,” he added.
For the executive, EU farming already has the tools to ensure fairer prices by using innovative methods.
A Commission official noted that there were millions of farmers, but very few supermarkets.
“There are signals at the moment that in big cities you see supermarkets losing their high demand, because you get new suppliers/farmers coming […] who start providing food directly at your home,” he said, adding that this is made possible by ICT applications.