Minister Planas, elected representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak at this important event, which I was very glad to accept.
The European Commission is a strong supporter of agricultural digitisation, as part of our broader mission to achieve the digital transformation of the European economy.
One of the ten priorities of this Commission is to establish a digital single market. Because of cultural, economic and institutional boundaries, Europe has a more fragmented market than the USA. This can be a challenge for many sectors.
Establishing a real single market with minimal obstacles to work across boundaries is therefore essential to unlock the substantial economies of scale the digital sector can achieve.
Within this overarching goal, the digitisation of the rural economy, including farming and food production, is a key challenge.
Existing Policies Supporting Digitisation of Agriculture
Digital technologies are already, as we speak, transforming the way we produce our food, manage our land, the way we eat and consume our food and even the way we do research. Andalusia has been a front runner from the start and is very active today in many initiatives in this area.
To reinforce the EU’s competitiveness in digital technologies, the “Digitising European Industries” initiative supports both the development of digital industrial platforms and large-scale pilots that provide the digital technology building blocks of the future.
We invest in these initiatives through our EU Research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. Under this programme we will invest in “Agricultural digital integration platforms”.
These platforms will make data accessible and allow third parties to develop applications based on that data, and connect different users and application to developers. Equipped with appropriate business models, digital agricultural platforms can ultimately be instrumental in the creation of open digital innovation ecosystems.
In April last year, the workshop on “Data Sharing and how to ensure a fair sharing of digitisation benefits in agriculture” addressed key issues such as trust and data ownership. This led a coalition of organisations active in the sector to develop a Code of Conduct on agricultural data sharing.
Although this is a private sector initiative, we have been in close contact with the European farmers organisation COPA and the European Agricultural Machinery organisation, CEMA, as well as with the other organisations involved. The code recognises that access to and use of farm data should be determined by the farmer. This is also my conviction.
Another target is to provide all those who have a good idea with the tools necessary to develop that idea. That is why we are now setting up a vast network of agricultural Digital Innovation Hubs across the EU.
In this project, we support the networking of competence centres across Europe. The idea is that an innovator in Spain might need specific competences on robotics, only available in Poland. The same hubs will also provide access to finance, advice and every other element which can support the realisation of the many good ideas in a bottom-up but very European way.
As many of you know, the Andalusian region is heavily involved in this project and has already set up its agricultural digital innovation hub.
Other initiatives include work on the ethics of artificial intelligence, privacy and many more domains, in which we should balance what is technically possible with European values like fairness and openness.
These are positive steps in the right direction. But the evolution towards a digitised agri-food sector is still moving too slowly.
We need to speed it up, because the challenges facing farmers today are immense: they are asked to produce more and better food while using fewer inputs; they are tasked with reducing their environmental footprint; they are expected to meet evolving consumer demands; and they are expected to cope with climate change and volatile global markets.
Future CAP & Horizon Europe
So how can we speed things up? Smart, forward-looking policy tools are the answer.
That is why we are proposing to double the budget for Research and Innovation in Food and Natural Resources, under the Horizon Europe for the period 2021 to 2027.
Under this programme, with an unprecedented budget of €10 billion, the EU will keep investing strongly in digital research and innovation for the farming sector.
This is also why we have raised our ambitions for climate and environmental sustainability in our proposals for the future CAP, placing digitisation as a cross-cutting objective.
Member States will have to show in their future so-called CAP strategic plan how they will support investments:
in modernisation, innovation, diversification and uptake of new technologies and digital-based opportunities in the farm sector;
and in the development of digital infrastructure and human capital (including advisors) to create new opportunities and improve the connectivity and attractiveness of rural areas.
In the policy context of creating a digital single market and an open and fair digital environment for sustainable food production, we have a strong case for EU public intervention in agricultural digitisation.
In the area of e-government, my services are working with other Commission services to improve access to the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) and also to other Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) spatial data.
The European Commission will continue the efforts to persuade all Member States to share IACS spatial data.
Europe now has the world’s most comprehensive, high performance, civil constellation of Earth imaging satellites – the Copernicus Sentinels. These offer significant new sources of data for key CAP tasks such as yield forecasts, as well as new priorities such as improved performance monitoring.
We have world class navigation and positioning with Galileo.
We have the capacity to handle big data in the cloud.
And we have an active, creative and productive scientific community advancing the use of Artificial Intelligence.
Technology can help our key stakeholders, both farmers and administrations, to avoid complexity, AND keep financial assurance at the same high level as before.
Deploying these technologies can help to build systems based on results – we can actually observe and measure progress.
Administrators and farmers will get warnings – not notices of non-compliance.
And crucially, farmers and administrators will not have to spend hours and days filling in forms and dealing with unwanted officials visiting their land.
In this way, technology and data solutions can deliver a simpler, better-targeted and better performing EU agri-food production system.
I would also like to draw your attention to the Smart Villages concept. This is an EU initiative to harness connectivity and digitisation in the creation of a better life in rural areas.
In 2018, the European Commission supported by several MEPs issued the Bled Declaration, officially launching the development of a Smart Villages approach. The goal was to see Smart Villages becoming a model in EU Member States already in 2019.
A pilot project on Smart Eco-Social Villages was launched in 2017 and is on track to conclude in April 2019. This project is focusing on the analysis of ten best practice examples for Smart Village and six case studies on potential Smart Villages. Final results will be presented in a stakeholder workshop in March 2019.
Those villages developed should serve as models for the inspiration of others.
Connectivity & Broadband
Finally, I want to repeat a point I have made on many occasions before: digitisation and the uptake of new technology requires connectivity.
To reach this Promised Land, we need better broadband, connectivity and infrastructure. And of course we need to address the huge rural-urban gap in the provision of broadband.
While 76 % of the EU population now has access to fast broadband only 40 % of homes in rural areas have such access.
This is a serious handicap for the development of new businesses, jobs and prosperity. The lack of connectivity has an extremely high cost for rural populations in general but for agriculture in particular.
To help to close this gap, around €6 billion has been dedicated to improve the roll-out of broadband, especially in rural and peripheral areas, benefiting around 18 million rural citizens.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we have a strong case for EU public intervention in agricultural and rural digitisation. But I want to stress that public policy intervention should only go as far as needed and allow you to do your job.
This is why we rely on you, the digital innovators, and I am looking forward to hearing about your latest ideas to make our agriculture and economy more competitive and sustainable at the same time. Thank you.