Precision farming position in the new CAP still unclear

According to Phil Hogan, new technologies will have a key role in helping the EU meet its climate-related Sustainable Development Goals. [Shutterstock]

New technologies will keep receiving financial support in the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020, “possibly” under the current funding regime. However, it is not yet clear if precision farming will be linked to the direct payments pillar or to the environmental performance in general.

According to farmers, in order for precision farming to flourish in Europe, EU policymakers should also seek funds from other policy areas.

Sources have told EURACTIV.com that the use of new technologies will continue to be encouraged and they will likely be available for them through EU research funds (FP9), as is the case now.

But it is still not clear, at least at this stage, whether there will be any explicit link between precision farming and environmental benefits, or any share of direct payments specifically dedicated to that (as is now the case with greening), the same sources emphasised.

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.

Commission: Precision farming will increase EU productivity

The development of precision farming practices will provide the EU with enormous opportunities to increase its productivity, according to a European Commission official.

The agri-food industry and EU farmers’ associations are pushing for a specific role oFOR precision farming in the post-2020 CAP, while environmental organisations have expressed reservations about the use of new technologies.

The main arguments against new technologies lie in the issue of smallholders’ access to these, and of who actually owns the collected data.

In an interview with Ypaithros.gr, EURACTIV Greece’s media partner, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan appeared fully supportive of precision farming practices.

He pointed out that smart farming could develop new products and services to create growth and jobs in the agricultural sector.

“Up to 70% of new farming equipment sold today includes a precision agriculture component, so we are clearly moving in the right direction,” Hogan underscored.  He also said that by taking advantage of all data possibilities, including satellite data, digitisation will help to drive the administrative simplification of the CAP.

Referring to the data issue, Hogan admitted that digitisation raises some questions on data ownership and access and issues related to interoperability of different systems.

“For example, will a farmer be able to use data collected by his or her spraying machine in a smartphone application that runs under a farm management system and would it be worthwhile to buy a given application?” Hogan wondered.

But according to the EU agriculture chief, new technologies will have a key role in helping the EU meet its climate-related Sustainable Development Goals.

“This will depend on new technology as it will give farmers more efficient tools and better access to information so that they can produce more using less.”

Funds from other policy areas

From their side, EU farmers call for funds coming from other EU policy areas in order for precision farming to sufficiently address the current challenges.

“Precision farming doesn’t only relate to CAP, but it concerns other EU policy areas as well. The CAP has already supported precision farming in past and we believe it will do so also in the future, but funds must come from other policy areas as well… That is why it is important to ensure a sufficient budget for the CAP that matches these policy objectives,” Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of EU farmers and cooperatives association Copa-Cogeca, told EURACTIV.com.

Pesonen also raised the issue of broadband infrastructure, saying that more needs to be done.

“We cannot pretend to have an uptake of precision farming if a farmer doesn’t even have access to broadband,” Pesonen said.

The Commission acknowledges that there is currently no proper broadband infrastructure in place in Europe, but says that it is up to the EU governments to speed up the procedures.

Only 40% of homes in rural areas now have access to fast broadband.

Yara: Need for flexibility

In emailed comments, Yara, a multinational fertiliser and crop nutrition company, highlighted the importance of precision farming saying that the whole farming community will be benefited as productivity will be maximised with the most efficient and sustainable input and the SDGs will be achieved.

But Yara also raised the need for farmers to be granted “flexibility” to adapt their practices to the variability of their agronomical and environmental conditions.

“It is proven that the right amount of nitrogen to apply on a crop varies with season conditions and intra-farm variability: farmers should have certain flexibility within regulations, to adapt their nitrogen dosage to such variations, as long as they implement valid precision farming solutions which improve nitrogen balance and environmental performance compared to uniform application.”

“This is a step evolution from classic regulations based on an archaic flat ‘blanket’ approach,” Yara noted.

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