On 25 April 2023 the RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup co-chair, MEP Franc Bogovič, hosted an event in the European Parliament titled:

Data-driven solutions for sustainable farming and smart villages – New opportunities for European farmers, innovators and customers

The European Green Deal aims to realise Europe’s net zero emissions ambition by 2050. But by the time we hit that timeline, we will likely run out of quality soil to produce enough food that fulfils European standards. It is therefore high time to step up the game with concrete and innovative solutions that empower farmers and offer citizens a role in the transition towards a sustainable food system. Harnessing technology to use limited natural and human resources most efficiently has never been more pressing and, fortunately enough, easier.

This event will feature first-hand insight into new technologies and innovative solutions, which will help Europe lead the way toward sustainable food systems. These solutions include high-tech precision agriculture models, efficient green manure and intercropping techniques. The event brought together Europe’s leading innovators, agronomy researchers, philanthropists and policy-makers to discuss concrete steps for European agri-food policies that will accelerate the transition to a sustainable and secure food system.

MEP Franc Bogovič commenced the session by welcoming everyone to the event, which was focused on finding new technological solutions to our current agricultural conundrum of trying to hit a zero emission and pesticides target while simultaneously increasing our yields, in order to be able to feed an ever-growing world population. Farmers all over the EU are concerned about EU legislation on sustainability, are worried about the limitations and are afraid that their children will not continue farming. That is why Slovenian farmers across the country went for a countrywide strike while we were speaking about their concerns at our conference.

Our main focus is to analyse the potential (and dangers) of data-driven solutions and artificial intelligence in the agriculture sector. Sustainable agriculture is critical to ensuring that there is enough food security and environmental protection, and digital technologies can play a significant role in achieving these goals. Data-driven solutions, such as precision agriculture, can help farmers make better decisions about planting, harvesting, and managing their crops. These solutions can also ensure transparency and traceability, which help to build trust between farmers and consumers. As policymakers, it is the MEPs’ responsibility to support these solutions and ensure that they benefit all stakeholders.

The speakers at the event were:

  • Ms Dubravka Šuica, EU Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography
  • Ms Diana Lenzi, President of European Young Farmers Association (CEJA)
  • Mr Žiga Vavpotič, Director for Strategic Partnerships, LoginEKO
  • Mr. Andy Zinga, CEO, EIT Food

The event was moderated by Suzana Carp, who is a European Climate Policy Specialist.

European Commission Vice President, Dubravka Šuica, held the session’s keynote speech. She commended our intergroup for its good work and spoke about our important collaboration on the Long Term Vision for Rural Areas, of which the EC VP was the main driver. She spoke about the relevance of demography for Europe’s rural areas and how important it is for rural areas to keep and even attract young people with new and attractive job opportunities. This is especially true for the Balkans and it is therefore highly commendable that Login5 is creating skilled labour opportunities in Serbia and Slovenia. She went on to say that the support for smart villages is a cornerstone of the rural action plan for stronger rural areas. The concept of Smart Villages does not propose a one-size-fits-all solution. It simply would not deliver what is needed.

Instead, local communities are best placed to assess the challenges of their territories and build on them. Smart villages can be laboratories for using participatory method and innovative solutions to address some of the major challenges facing rural areas in the 21st century. Smart agriculture. Regenerative agriculture. Carbon farming. These are new technologies for a more resilient community and environment. And new technologies are one of the main themes addressed in Smart Villages, in line with the Green Deal objectives.

Let us be clear: We are only going to succeed if we have our fingers on the technology. Technology is key to our future, no matter what age we are. From the youngest to the older members of our society. And when it comes to the demographic mega-trend of ageing, innovation and technology are key to ensuring an active, healthy and mobile lifestyle. Also in rural areas. Again, connectivity is key here.

We have to make it the legacy of the European Commission and Parliament that we placed rural areas on the forefront of our policy making!

Žiga Vavpotič from Login5 showed a video of the solutions Login5 is working on and told us a little about the Login5 story: Samo Login and his team created the software company Outfit7, which is famous for its game “Talking Tom”. They sold it after only seven years for one billion Dollars. He is now using his funds to try to solve one of the world’s most pressing problem: How to feed an ever-growing global population and provide enough proteins in an ecologically friendly and sustainable way.

For what he calls “the original purpose” he founded the Login5 Foundation with LoginEKO as its most important project and bought 4.400 hectares of fertile farm land in Serbia, where they want to use a data driven sustainable farming model that combines all existing precision farming tools in an ecologically sound and sustainable manner.
According to Mr Vavpotič, the strength of LoginEKO lies in a data driven software model and accurate traceability systems from soil to silos and beyond. They work on novelty, healthy, tasty and convenient food in their laboratories and are trying to empower farmers through financing models that foresee no interest rates for the farmers.

Mark von Pentz, who is the President of John Deere’s Worldwide Agriculture & Turf Division and who’s company supplies machinery to LoginEKO spoke about John Deere’s strong believe that AI based solutions will positively contribute to sustainable farming. That’s the reason they acquired the company BLUE RIVER in 2017. Blue River has created the “see and spray” robotics platform which uses computer vision to recognise plants, and sprays herbicide on weeds and fertilizer on crops with similar precision to inkjet printers. This precise targeting ultimately reduce chemical usage by more than 90%, resulting in cost savings to the farmer and fewer harmful chemicals in our soil. The use See & Spray technology, in order to battle herbicide resistance and optimize the overall use of chemicals. These innovations open up the possibility to manage crops at the plant-by-plant level. They also believe farmers should get to keep their hard-earned money. From optimizing the amount of chemicals they need to purchase, automating time-intensive tasks, to capturing better data about their crop yield and efficiencies.

Mr von Pentz went on to tell us about John Deere’s semi-autonomous tractor. This tractor drives semi-autonomously and is equipped with an integrated crop sprayer. Using a built-in camera, it is possible to work in row crops – for example, applying plant protection products to fruit tree orchards. Filling the sprayer tank is fully automatic at the filling station, so the user is not exposed to pesticides. This is designed to reduce costs and increase productivity by over 30 per cent.

Regarding the regulatory framework, they are closely following the debates between the EU institutions on the AI ACT. This is a horizontal legislation, which should not hamper innovation.

“Our industry is of opinion that agricultural equipment should be excluded from its scope when they use deterministic algorithms and when there’s human supervision of automated functions or if the use of the technology is provided in enclosed fields or agricultural spaces with no human interaction. We also call the EU regulators to issue a sectoral AI regulation (delegated act for instance) as the risk arising from agricultural applications, like planting could not be compared with future surgery robots, for instance. In one case an error of 1 cm has no consequence, in the other it could lead to dramatic effects”, Mark von Pentz stated.

Furthermore AI applications may help to enhance precision AG. Without those technologies it will be harder for agriculture to reach the ambitious goals to dramatically increase production by 2050 and at the same time cope with the sustainability requirements of the Green Deal.

Adam Mouchtar, the coordinator of the RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup in the European Parliament, remarked that it might be important for both Login5 and John Deer to keep an eye on the Data Act as well. The collection of data is the baseline for any AI activity. Some of the involved in the negotiations of the Data Act, would like to see a publication of all data, making it available to the public. This would destroy any sort of business model and endanger the livelihood of those creating the data. In this case, the farmers.

Diana Lenzi, the President of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA), reminded everyone that young farmers are the most motivated to use knew data-driven technologies for farming, but are usually those, who can afford them the least. She spoke about the importance of farming for preserving beautiful landscapes and for tourism and the economy of rural areas overall. Farmers are custodians of rural areas and their landscapes. She is positive about precision farming tools because they attract well-educated urban youngsters to enter farming business and offer a better quality of life overall.

Andy Zynga, who is the CEO of EIT Food, closed the session by informing the audience of the mission of EIT Food in support of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. They work, in order to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system, following an inclusive food systems approach. Its pro-jects are driven by four Impact Goals:

  1. Improving conditions leading to more trust in the food system;
  2. Better health outcomes from our diet;
  3. Improved food system environmental impact;
  4. Enabling transition to a circular, sustainable food economy

In order to realise impact in these areas, EIT Food articulates its projects and programmes in service to three overarching Missions, incorporating the main systemic objectives that we strive to realise:

  1. Healthier lives through food;
  2. Net-Zero Food Systems; and
  3. Reducing risk for a fair and resilient food system

They are currently focusing especially on:

  1. Regenerative Agriculture and other sustainable methodologies of primary production, with an emphasis on soil health and water management; one of the main obstacles in this area is the lack of a policy definition of regenerative agriculture
  2. Protein Diversification – ensuring that consumers have access to a wider variety of nutritious, healthy and safe protein sources, connected with a positive impact on the environment
  3. Packaging & Labelling – and more at large, data and digitalisation, to ensure transparent, traceable products that consumers can trust and obtain reliable and easily understandable information on