Updated: May 26, 2020
The much-awaited Farm to Fork Strategy (F2FS) was released on Tuesday by the European Commission (EC), along with the new Biodiversity Strategy. It will constitute a comprehensive basis for the European Union's food and agriculture policy in the coming five years. The Strategy advocates for a deep, systemic transformation in Europe’s agriculture, affecting not only processes but also the very business model of agriculture.
These transformations are set to be facilitated by technological advances. Indeed, the EU’s Horizon 2020 has financed several projects aimed at digitalising the agricultural industry. Through innovations in the Internet of Things, automation, artificial intelligence, through the use of drones and robots, agricultural practises, nay the very activity of being a farmer is set to be deeply changed.
The Commission itself states that: “Farmers, fishers and aquaculture producers need to transform their production methods more quickly and make the best use of nature-based, technological, digital, and space-based solutions to deliver better climate and environmental results, increase climate resilience and reduce and optimise the use of inputs”
This new legislative plan has great implications for the technological sector. The EU Horizon 2020 program that ran over the past five years has funded countless projects aimed at digitising European agriculture. The innovations that stemmed from this effort are based on all the novel digital technologies that have been developed over the past 10 years, from drones to artificial intelligence, from automation to the Internet of Things. However, their access by farmers is still highly restricted by their price, and the rate of uptake of these technologies by the agricultural market still remains underwhelming.
Investments and Funding Opportunities
Horizon 2020 was worth €80 Billion. An additional €1 Billion was unlocked in 2019 by the new EU Commission to fund proposals for Green Deal priorities in 2020. However, the upcoming Horizon Europe programme, the joint research funds of the EU for the 2021-2027 period will be worth €100 Billion (approximately) and proposes to dedicate €10 Billion to R&I on food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and the environment as well as the use of digital technologies and nature-based solutions for agri-food.
A mission in the area of soil health and food will aim to develop solutions for restoring soil health and functions. New knowledge and innovations will also scale up agro-ecological approaches in primary production through a dedicated partnership on agro-ecology living laboratories.
Further, the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ (EIP-Agri) Programme will be projected to the forefront of the Research and Development scene through the Member States’ Strategic Plans that will be drafted as part of their obligations under the new CAP. The strengthened role of this program will allow innovation to be developed and scaled quicker and will facilitate the transfer of knowledge to all stakeholders.
In order to encourage private sector investments towards sustainable food systems, the European Commission proposed EU budget guarantees through the InvestEU Fund. This move would reduce the risk of investments by European corporations and help SMEs and mid-cap companies secure funding opportunities. Further, the EU framework to facilitate sustainable investments (EU taxonomy), as well as the renewed strategy on sustainable finance, will mobilise the financial sector to invest more sustainably, including in the agriculture and food production sector. This will essentially strengthen the competitiveness of sustainable technologies in their quest for early seed and their scaling fundings alike.
The innovation perspective of the F2FS will be essentially focused on encouraging the uptake of technological innovation by farmers. Indeed, digitisation is regarded as a key enabler of precision farming practises advocated by the Commission. Although the technology is already out there, its use is too often restricted. The aim will, therefore, be to remove the barriers to the adoption of those technologies.
Fast and reliable internet is a key enabler for jobs, business and investment in rural areas, as well as for improving the quality of life in areas such as healthcare, entertainment and e-government. Further, in order to achieve its targets on pesticide and fertiliser use, the EU will need to enable precision farming practices in EU farms. The mainstreaming of these practises will only be accessed through the uptake of digital innovations, which will be facilitated by the 100% objective on rural access to fast broadband internet.
The precision farming technologies that have seen fast increasing attention will be scaled up. Technology and solution developers will, therefore, have increased access to funding and will see their opportunities decuple. In order to get ahead, they should position themselves on the market quickly and sustainably. Using the facilitation mechanisms already in places, such as digital innovation hubs and innovation partnership programs, they can build a strong basis for their future sales and imminent success.