The Farm to Fork strategy poses at its core rural innovation, knowledge and green economy to enable rural transition for 2050

Source: European Commission

The European Commission has just launched the Farm to Fork strategy that will mark the pathway to achieve a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system in Europe. This strategy will have a strong influence in final shape of the future CAP Strategic Plans that will be negotiated between the EC and Member State. This post outlines three of the key elements that the Farm to Fork Strategy outlines and which we find relevant to boost innovation in the agricultural sector and rural areas as a whole, namely i) Research, innovation, technology and investments ii) Advisory services, data and knowledge sharing, and skills and iii) circular and green economy.

Farm to fork and research, innovation, technology and investments

Research and innovation (R&I) are key drivers in accelerating the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems from primary production to consumption. R&I can help develop and test solutions, overcome barriers and uncover new market opportunities. Under Horizon 2020,the Commission is preparing an additional call for proposals for Green Deal priorities in 2020 for a total of around EUR 1 billion. Under Horizon Europe, it proposes to spend EUR 10 billion on 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 key area of research will relate to microbiome, food from the oceans, urban food systems, as well as increasing the availability and source of alternative proteins such as plant, microbial, marine and insect-based proteins and meat substitutes.

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. This will contribute to reducing the use of pesticides, fertilisers and antimicrobials. To speed up innovation and accelerate knowledge transfer, the Commission will work with Member States to strengthen the role of the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ (EIP-AGRI) in the Strategic Plans. In addition, the European Regional Development Fund will invest, through smart specialisation, in innovation and collaboration along the food value chains.

A new Horizon Europe partnership for “Safe and sustainable food systems for people, planet and climate” will put in place an R&I governance mechanism engaging Member States and food systems actors from farm to fork, to deliver innovative solutions providing co-benefits for nutrition, quality of food, climate, circularity and communities. All farmers and all rural areas need to be connected to fast and reliable internet. This 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. Access to fast broadband internet will also enable mainstreaming precision farming and use of artificial intelligence. It will allow the EU to fully exploit its global leadership in satellite technology. This will ultimately result in a cost reduction for farmers, improve soil management and water quality, reduce the use of fertilisers, pesticides and GHG emissions, improve biodiversity and create a healthier environment for farmers and citizens.

The Commission aims to accelerate the roll-out of fast broadband internet in rural areas to achieve the objective of 100% access by 2025. Investments will be necessary to encourage innovation and create sustainable food systems. Through EU budget guarantees, the InvestEU Fund will foster investment in the agro-food sector by de-risking investments by European corporations and facilitating access to finance for SMEs and mid-cap companies. In 2020, 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. The CAP must also increasingly facilitate investment support to improve the resilience and accelerate the green and digital transformation of farms. Commission Staff working document – European Research and Innovation for Food and Nutrition Security, SWD 2016/319 and Commission FOOD 2030 High-level Conference background document (2016) – European Research & Innovation for Food & Nutrition Security. Established as part of the InvestEU programme as laid down in the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the InvestEU Programme, COM(2018) 4439, 2018/0229 (COD).Under the European Fund for Strategic Investment, ‘mid-cap companies’ mean entities with a number of employees ranging from 250 up to 3000 and that are not SMEs. EU taxonomy is an implementation tool that can enable capital markets to identify and respond to investment opportunities that contribute to environmental policy objectives.16


Farm to fork and advisory services, data and knowledge sharing, and skills

Knowledge and advice are key to enabling all actors in the food system to become sustainable. Primary producers have a particular need for objective, tailored advisory services on sustainable management choices. The Commission will therefore promote effective Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS), involving all food chain actors. In their CAP Strategic Plans, Member States will need to scale up support for AKIS and strengthen resources to develop and maintain appropriate advisory services needed to achieve the Green Deal objectives and targets. The Commission will propose legislation to convert its Farm Accountancy Data Network into the Farm Sustainability Data Network with a view to also collect data on the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies’ targets and other sustainability indicators. The network will enable the benchmarking of farm performance against regional, national or sectoral averages. Through tailored advisory services, it will provide feedback and guidance to farmers and link their experience to the European Innovation Partnership and research projects. This will improve the sustainability of participating farmers, including their incomes.As part of the European data strategy, the common European agriculture data space will enhance the competitive sustainability of EU agriculture through the processing and analysis of production, land use, environmental and other data, allowing precise and tailored application of production approaches at farm level and the monitoring of performance of the sector, as well as supporting the carbon farming initiative. The EU programmes Copernicus and EuropeanMarine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) will reduce the investment risks and facilitate sustainable practices in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.The Commission will ensure tailored solutions to help SME food processors and small retail and food service operators to develop new skills and business models, while avoiding additional administrative and cost burdens. It will provide guidance to retailers, food processors and food service providers on best practices on sustainability. The Enterprise Europe Network will provide advisory services on sustainability for SMEs and foster the dissemination of best practices. The Commission will also update its Skills Agenda to ensure that the food chain has access to sufficient and suitably skilled labour.

Circular bio-based economy

The circular bio-based economy is still a largely untapped potential for farmers and their cooperatives. For example, advanced bio-refineries that produce bio-fertilisers, protein feed, bioenergy, and bio-chemicals offer opportunities for the transition to a climate-neutral European economy and the creation of new jobs in primary production. Farmers should grasp opportunities to reduce methane emissions from livestock by developing the production of renewable energy and investing in anaerobic digesters for biogas production from agriculture waste and residues, such as manure. Farms also have the potential to produce biogas from other sources of waste and residues, such as from the food and beverage industry, sewage, wastewater and municipal waste. Farm houses and barns are often perfect for placing solar panels and such investments should be prioritised in the future CAP Strategic Plans12. The Commission will take action to speed-up market adoption of these and other energy efficiency solutions in the agriculture and food sectors as long as these investments are carried out in a sustainable manner and without compromising food security or biodiversity, under the clean energy initiatives and programmes.