The future of EU farming lies in innovation – MEPs

Innovation can increase farmers’ income, create rural jobs and make EU farming more sustainable, MEPs from the Agriculture committee said last week.

It can also make EU farming more productive in times of rising global demand for quality food with lowest possible environmental footprint, they said.

According to the MEPs, the EU and its Member States must make sure that all EU farmers, including small and young ones and those in remote areas, have proper access to the recent innovation and technologies.

UK MEP Anthea McIntyre, rapporteur, said that this is about the huge potential for smart farming to boost yields and help the environment – feeding the world without it costing the planet.

“No part of the farming industry must feel excluded from the vast opportunities technological advance can bring.

“The advantages should reach the smallest of smallholdings as well as the biggest of super-farms.”

McIntyre’s report was approved by the Agriculture committee with 23 votes to 14, with four abstentions.

MEPs say that using innovative practices, such as precision farming, and recent technologies, including the satellite ones, will lead to more sustainable production, more efficient use of water and other resources and higher farmers’ income.

According to the MEPs, precision farming and digital technology integration can make EU agriculture more attractive to young farmers and boost growth and employment.

The committee therefore calls on the Commission and Member States to:

  • Stimulate the development and uptake of precision farming technologies for all farm types.
  • Apply a targeted research into nutrient efficiency to improve soil and water management and involve farmers in the design of soil nutrient mapping technologies.
  • Create partnerships of innovative actors, including small farmers and those in remote areas.
  • Make information and communication technologies (ICT) more accessible to EU’s agriculture, and
    work closely with farmers and researchers to develop new skills and ensure knowledge transfers, including via trainings and apprenticeships for young farmers.

Fight the loss of genetic diversity

Last week, MEPs also said in a resolution that EU laws must enable farmers and breeders to make the best use of genetic resources to safeguard biodiversity and innovation in developing new varieties.

They want to:

  • Further develop the performance of local breeds adapted to their local environment.
  • Support farmers’ rights to breed plants autonomously and exchange seeds.
  • Open up the conservation of genetic resources to a greater diversity of plant and animal species, and promote a greater dialogue between genetic banks, private and public plant research, breeders, end-users and all other actors involved in conservation and use of genetic resources.

The agriculture committee also criticised the decision of the European Patent Office (EPO) to grant patents to products obtained from essentially biological processes.

Give farmers more options to protect their plants

The resolution also said that farmers need a bigger toolbox at hand to protect their crops, including a wider alternatives to traditional pesticides, such as biopesticides.

MEPs called for further efforts in developing more cost-effective alternatives and want the Commission to work towards a more sustainable pest management system.

The agriculture committee also wants a faster approval process for low-risk plant protection product. MEPs believe that this would stimulate industry research into the development of new low-risk active ingredients and thus ensure farmers have sufficient plant-protections tools.