Where is AgTech in the new EU Common Agricultural Policy?

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We all know that the EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) will change.

Furthermore, we all are probably sure that change is inevitable. It’s quite obvious when one pays a look at the performance of the EU farming sector, both economic and environmental, during the last programming period (not to mention that it’s actually not over yet).

So CAP must change; the million euro question, as usual, is: how?

The answer will be given in accordance with the political decisions at EU level, which actually reflect the compromises between different Member-States’ national priorities, tailored to the budget available for CAP funding. Here I won’t talk about strategic plans, CAP pillars or funds redistribution. It is (or will be) all available online, at the EC’s pages. What I would like to stress are the two adjectives I used above to determine, to put it mildly, the questionable effectiveness of the present CAP: “economic” and “environmental”. And unlike most of the commenters, I’ll try to make use of the statistics. Most of which can be found here.

First comes the economic performance of European agriculture. Rural development is another area and has no place here. Given that from the farmers’ point of view it’s expressed by revenue, we will fix on that here. The figures go like this:

  • (1) Personal incomes. “Compared to average wages in the economy, the entrepreneurial income per family work unit came to around 46.5% in 2017 – the highest value over the last 12 years.” Or in other words: we must be glad and thankful that farming income has almost reached half of the average!
    (2) Farm incomes: “Every year at least 20% of farmers experience an income loss of more than 30% compared with their average income in the three previous years. The sectors facing the highest income variability year after year are: cereals, oilseeds and protein crops”.

A prospective industry is a predictable industry, at least in terms of revenues for those engaged in there. In spite of being “supported” through CAP, farmers’ incomes seem to swing up and down like a helpless boat in a stormy sea.

  • (3) Demographics: “The majority of farmers in the EU (56%) is older than 55 years, while only 6% are younger than 35 years.” In my view, this explains the above points quite clearly. In brief, youths who are bringers of the new and here I mean exactly AgTech, are out of the farming sector. Ergo, innovations remain outside it too and as a consequence, revenues stand still and quite unsatisfactory, to say the least.

Keeping on supporting European agriculture the way Brussels does it now, will not bring young people to the sector. Without them, no technology transfer and – respectively – no significant growth in productivity and income could happen.

Let’s now pass through to the environmental topic. Being an Archimedes-UDSS team member, I’ll naturally fix on the problems our IrriGATE technology is dealing with.  In any case, the list below can surely be prolonged.

  • (1) Fertiliser consumption. “While overall consumption of nitrogen fertiliser has decreased over the last decades, cereal yields have shown an increasing trend, indicating a more efficient use of fertiliser.” One thing I don’t get here: how can a rise in the use of something indicate its growing efficiency? Not to mention the gospel truth that for nitrogen specifically, over-use leads to frankly negative environmental impacts.
    (2) Water abstraction. “Agriculture accounts for more than half (51.4% in 2014) of the freshwater use in Europe, more than all other sectors combined.” Looks startling, given that the share of agriculture in the EU-27 GDP is just under 3%.
    (3) Water for irrigation. “Irrigation is the primary water use of agriculture. (…) In the EU-28, the total water used for irrigation by agricultural holdings was around 40 billion m3 in 2010.” OK, the IrriGATE technology could help solving this, but nevertheless a CAP incentive would be of exceptional favour both here and in connection of the fertilisers misuse we just mentioned.

So the conclusion is that, in order to be effective, and by that I mean, really useful for the farmer, the nature and the society, the new CAP must encourage the shift in generations and the AgTech adoption in EU agriculture.

This is the only way to guarantee decent incomes for people working in the sector, on the one hand, and to create the conditions necessary for securing both the food produce we need and the protection of environment. Otherwise, smart farming will remain just a dream, and without smart farming, mankind would not be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow, inclusive economic and environmental. And that is certainly true not for Europe alone.

Author: Kamen Delibeev

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