“Enhancing innovation and moving towards digitalization in agriculture” – this is what one of the panels of the AgriFood forum focused on. The panel discussion was kicked off by Dr. George Beers, the coordinator of SmartAgriHubs, Wageningen University & Research, who gave a fascinating presentation on innovation and digitalization in agriculture.

He started his speech with three dimensions of sustainability. These dimensions –  environmental, social, and economic – must be considered when discussing sustainable food production. They usually determine our promises to improve, reduce, eradicate, or create certain things.

To understand the current state of digital innovation in agriculture, they have conducted a short survey among 11 Horizon projects.  In some cases, data shows weak positions that deserve attention, while in others, the situation is far more promising.

“Is this a negative thing? I don’t think so. We have to be aware, that these are responses from Horizon projects’ researchers. So, they always look for the problems,” – George Beers ironically pointed out saying that researchers are defining the challenges they need to work to address a bit more. “I am quite positive about this since it helps me to identify where to put more emphasis to make the promises come true. Also, we shouldn’t forget some dimensions that are important for society or for farmers or for sustainable food. We don’t forget them. This is the message behind all of this,”- continued George Beers.

In his view, digital innovation hubs perform the role of one-stop shops for stakeholders locally. There are 350 existing DIH networks in Europe, including SMEs, start-ups, and scale-ups, 1000 organizations, 3500+ users, and 60+ innovation hubs. All of these hubs are connected to an innovation portal that collects all the knowledge, good practices, experience, and tools and makes them available to DIHs so that they can use them in their local communities.

Dr. George Beers finished his speech with a motivating note: “I think that if we want to make the next steps in the digitalization in the Agrifood, we need to have more focus on the impact and don’t forget the promises that we made. We need to have more insight and more effort into creating evidence…We should continue to connect the dots so that we can build upon each other’s results instead of doing the same all over Europe and reinventing the wheel over and over.”

Enhancing innovation and moving towards digitalization in agriculture

Claudia Godinho from the Portuguese EIT FOOD Hub addressed the topic of digitalization in the agrifood sector. She revealed that 78% of water is used in agriculture in Portugal in excess of Europe’s average. In her opinion, it is possible to improve the situation in Europe as a whole as well. However, this highlights the need for digitalization. We are already taking steps to change the situation on a global scale.

Evangelia Mourmoura, team leader of DG Agriculture and Rural Development at the European Commission, said: the digital transformation of Agriculture is happening. It is shaping right now and it is one of our core important points under the common agricultural policy that starts shortly, in 2023. We see it in digitalization and Innovation as a crosscutting objective. It is a horizontal objective that needs a comprehensive approach and systems so we boost the digitalization uptake targeted on specific needs.”

Andy Zynga: EIT Food transforms the food system in Europe to make it more tangible

CEO at EIT Food – Andy Zynga – mentioned that their organization has focus areas that help them articulate the challenges better in order to find better solutions to them. It is their responsibility to fund one of the focus areas in the digitalization of the food system if the solutions are good.

When describing EIT Food’s tools for finding the right language for farmers and stakeholders, he noted that their company has a whole department dedicated to education: “We believe systemic approaches are important all the way to farmers training and regenerative agriculture, etc. So, I believe that in order to create the common language we need upskilling of both farmers and every other element of the food chain. In my opinion, digitalization without a program of training is not quite right.”

Respect the differences, but look for the commonalities

Digital toolboxes and whether we can make something that can be scaled up for a common win position were discussed by experts. Dr. George Beers commented on this, saying: “You have to respect the differences, but also look for the similarities.”

PPMi Research Director Egidijus Barcevius added that when it comes to differences between sectors, we don’t see many differences. Differences appear only when it comes to technologies. When we examine actual challenges, we see many commonalities and challenges that are similar.