Research and innovation making EU agriculture fit for the future

Agro Napló
The 2023 EU AgriResearch Conference, which took place in Brussels from 31 May to 2 June 2023, provided helpful guidance and reflection on the future priority research and innovation investments needed to support agriculture, forestry and rural areas.

In addition to finding out how research and innovation activities benefit farmers, foresters and people living in rural areas, participants also had the opportunity to shape the Commission's long-term EU agenda on research for the agricultural sector and the Horizon Europe Strategic plan 2025-2027.

The EU agricultural sector evolves in a changing context, testing its resilience and adaptability. Climate change impact farming and food systems, who must adapt to extreme and recurring events, such as severe drought or floods. Only a competitive and socially sustainable agricultural sector will be able to successfully meet its green objectives. The technological, digital evolution, supported by a strong research and innovation agenda opens new horizons.

Transitions require local solutions, that take into account each regional and national situation. In that context, research and innovation is critically important to develop, upscale and share knowledge and skills, technological and social innovations, policies and governance models. This will enable transitions towards sustainable farming and forestry systems and rural communities.

For example, thanks to research, a new technology to produce fertiliser has been developed using a mixture of air, manure and electricity. With this method, farmers can produce the fertiliser where it is needed at relatively low cost. Precision farming also allows farmers to assess production and environmental conditions more efficiently. They can tailor with digital tools how they apply fertilisers or irrigation, reducing input and emissions.

To ensure maximum benefits for actors on the ground, the European Commission makes sure that research and innovation is now developed not only for farmers, foresters and rural communities, but also with them from the outset. The EU had allocated € 1 billion to fund 180 multi-actor projects for agriculture, forestry and rural development in the seven years of Horizon 2020 (2014-2020).

Since its launch in 2016, the EU AgriResearch Conference has been instrumental to design the long-term strategic approach to EU agricultural research and innovation (R&I).

Horizon Europe

Agriculture, forestry and rural areas benefit from unprecedented EU funding for research and innovation in the current programming period. Through Horizon Europe, €9 billion are allocated to research and innovation in the area of ‘Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment'between 2021 and 2027. Research and innovation activities funded by Horizon Europe will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Farm to Fork strategy, as well as the Long-term vision for rural areas, to the Soil Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals just to name some.

There is now also a stronger cooperation with Members States within the framework of co-funded EU research and innovation partnerships, where resources are pooled on topics of key interest to maximise impact. To accelerate the transition of farm systems, the first round of partnerships focus on agroecology, on improvement of animal health and welfare, and on enhancing the potential of data and digital solutions in agriculture.

To support the deployment of R&I solutions developed under Horizon Europe buy the CAP beneficiaries, the Horizon Europe's EU-FarmBook project will develop a platform to bring together all of the tangible outputs of EU-funded multi -actor research and innovation projects.Horizon Europe also introduced a new flagship instrument: the R&I Missions. Missions have ambitious goals and will deliver concrete results by 2030. They will do this by mobilising public and private actors, such as national, regional and local authorities, research institutes, farmers and land managers, entrepreneurs and investors to create real and lasting impact.

In 2021, the European Commission selected the restoration of soil health as one of the most pressing EU wide challenges to be addressed by one of the five Missions. ‘A Soil Deal For Europe' has the ambition to establish 100 living labs and lighthouses all over Europe to lead the transition towards healthy soils by 2030. Over 1 000 local testing sites will allow for real-life experimentation, co-creation of solutions by farmers, foresters and urban gardeners as well demonstration and showcasing of good practices to improve soil health all over Europe. Promising innovative technologies and practices from that process can then be upscaled under the CAP or other EU and national funding instruments.

The Common Agricultural Policy

Funds from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) complement Horizon Europe's funding and action to ensure that research and innovation will be taken up by farmers, foresters and rural communities.  Actions funded by the CAP under the agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) help building the bridge between innovation and end users. The EIP-AGRI connects farmers, foresters, advisors, researchers, business representatives, environmental groups, NGOs, consumer interest groups and other innovators in operational groups. In the current CAP, EU countries have planned to support the setting up of 6 600 groups. This is three times the number per year compared with the 2014-2020 period. They work to develop local solutions to current issues, such as reducing the use of chemical pesticides, boosting organic farming, recycling nutrients and using water resources more efficiently.

At EU level, close to €2.1 billion from EAFRD (European agricultural fund for rural development) is allocated to facilitate knowledge, exchange and information. Six million participants will benefit from advice, training, and knowledge exchange/participation in innovation projects under the European Innovation Partnership.More than 200 000 independent advisers will be supported in their work to help transfer knowledge to and increase innovation among farmers.

More information about the ongoing and future research and innovation activities for agriculture, forestry and rural areas are available online.


Címlapkép: Getty Images
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