Digital technologies in agriculture not only help European farmers to ‘produce more with less’, thus contributing to their livelihoods, they also address the wider sustainability challenges lying ahead for the agricultural sector, as well helping to combat climate change. Although the digitisation of the farming sector has many benefits, barriers to realise its full potential across Europe still remain. A recent declaration of cooperation on ‘A smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas’, signed by 25 European countries in 2019 (please see: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/eu-member-states-join-forces-digitalisation-european-agriculture-and-rural-areas), recognises the potential of digital technologies to help tackle important and urgent economic, social, climate and environmental challenges facing the EU’s agri-food sector and rural areas. This declaration acknowledges however that significant investment in training and ‘upskilling’ is needed in order to achieve such digital goals in farming.
The EIP-AGRI Service Point are key advocates of digital technologies that help generate safe, sustainable and quality food. An EIP-AGRI Service Point workshop on this topic entitled ‘New Skills for Digital Farming’ was held in in Aranjuez, Spain from the 5th to 6th of February 2020. The seminar aimed to contribute to the design and implementation of approaches and tools that can help farmers and farm advisers develop the skills they need in the face of the digital transition in agriculture. The final programme of this event can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/sites/agri-eip/files/field_event_attachments/eip-agri_sem_newskills_programme_final_10022020.pdf
Dr Shane Conway, Researcher at NUI Galway and the National Rural Network (NRN), attended this seminar on behalf of the NRN. Prof. Tom Kelly, Director of Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc, Ethan Cleary, Agricultural Technology Policy and Innovation Executive with the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Kevin Connolly, Farm Management Specialist at Teagasc and Peadar Casey, IT Carlow’s Enterprise Development Manager made up the rest of the Irish contingent participating at this event. The full list of participants who attended the seminar can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/sites/agri-eip/files/field_event_attachments/eip-agri_sem_newskills_participants_list_final.pdf
Following a welcome address by Luis Planas Puchades, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain, Emily Gray, Agricultural Policy Analyst with the OECD presented on ‘Skills for digital farming: needs, opportunities and challenges ahead’ (please see: https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/sites/agri-eip/files/field_event_attachments/eip-agri_sem_new_skills_for_digital_farming_gray.pdf)
Ethan Cleary then presented some research findings from a recent study carried out by IFA with almost 800 individual farmers that identified the current awareness and usage of farm technology in Ireland, the barriers and positives of digital technology, and the most effective approaches to training and education and any additional support requirements. This full report on this study can be found here: https://www.ifa.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Digital-Ag-Tech-Adoption-Attitudes.pdf
Prof Tom Kelly presented an overview of the innovative FAIRshare project to seminar participants at this event. This five-year EU Horizon 2020 funded project gathers an evidence base of the digital tools and services used internationally. More information about this project can be found on the FAIRshare website: https://www.h2020fairshare.eu/
A carousel of innovative examples and practices from across the EU were presented at this EIP-AGRI seminar over the two days, to highlight the diversity of farmers’ experiences with digitalisation. Breakout sessions at this workshop also allowed seminar participants in attendance from across the EU to examine ways of addressing the ‘digital’ skills gap in agriculture, and discuss the tools and approaches required for digital skills development in the farming sector across Europe, both now and in the future.
The role of AKIS (Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Systems) in supporting the use and understanding of digital technologies at farm level was also explored. The AKIS concept links a diversity of people, such as farmers, agricultural educators, researchers and extension personnel, to promote mutual learning and generate, share and utilise agriculture-related technology, knowledge and information. An AKIS case study carried out by the NRN entitled ‘Irish National Rural Network Embraces AKIS’ can be found here: https://www.nationalruralnetwork.ie/eip-agri-news/irish-national-rural-network-embraces-akis/
The main findings from the seminar and results of the breakout sessions and interactive discussions will be integrated in a final report, which will be made available on the EIP-AGRI Service Point website over the next few weeks.