CAP position: Smart Agriculture for All Farms

The Full document can be found HERE

Executive Summary

This paper focuses on the question of how to improve access by small farm holdings in Europe to Smart & Precision Agriculture (PA) technologies.[1] It provides concrete answers to 3 critical questions raised by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan in the context of the upcoming CAP reform:

  • What measures could make Smart & Precision Agriculture technologies accessible to the average European farmer (farming between 50-100 ha)?
  • How can Smart & Precision technologies boost sustainability & environmental protection?
  • What kind of Smart & Precision Agriculture technologies should be promoted by the CAP?

Smallholder Agriculture, the Scale Factor & Access to Smart Agriculture Technologies

Smallholder agriculture still dominates the European rural economy, with 86% of EU farms holding an area below 20ha. Advanced agricultural machinery solutions can help farm holdings – regardless of their size – to operate in a profitable, competitive and sustainable manner. In particular, Precision Agriculture (PA) technologies holds great potential for farmers in this regard. However, available economic evidence shows that there is a strong link between the size of a farm holding and its income, with larger farms tending to have higher income and investment capacity.

The importance of this ‘scale factor’ has also been evident in the uptake of PA technologies: at the beginning, only larger farms were able to buy, for instance, guidance devices and amortize them in a profitable manner. By today, these PA technologies have started to spread across the 100ha farm holdings segment. Meanwhile, there still is a clear bottleneck for the farm segment below 100ha with an income below EUR 25,000. For these farms, it is still difficult to access certain PA technologies in a profitable way, unless they operate in a niche production. As a result, still, less than 25% of EU farmers have access to Precision Agriculture technologies.

Support from the EU’s CAP after 2020 to stimulate the wider dissemination of PA technologies will be fundamental to reduce the negative impact of the scale factor. If no such supportive action to improve the uptake of PA technologies for farms below 100ha (97% of EU farms) were to be taken, it could become increasingly difficult for these farms to compete with farms in the USA, Canada and New-Zealand or even with larger EU farms, all of which massively invest in PA technologies. Not only could smaller EU farms thus lose their competitiveness. They might struggle to comply with greening targets and EU environmental policy goals.

 

Precision Agriculture Technologies to Be Promoted by the CAP

PA technologies are one of the most efficient tools to improve sustainability and productivity in farming. PA. technologies offer solutions to produce more with less and enhance food security and safety. Practically, PA technologies provide farmers with extra sensors which give them more information on how to manage natural variations like weather conditions, pests, insect and fungal infestation. Some of the most prominent environmental benefits of PA technologies are:

  • Preventing ground water pollution by optimizing manure and chemical spraying
  • Reducing fresh water withdrawals with precision irrigation
  • Limiting crop damages by responding rapidly and effectively to pest, fungal infestation
  • Allowing new types of polyculture (critical to stimulate biodiversity, noticeably for pollinators)

 

Some PA diagnostic technologies are already highly affordable and thus available to smaller farms thanks to smart phones or tablets and their applications. Such applications can directly signal a problem on the field or connect to an online service for further probing.

 

Other fundamental PA technologies are less available to smaller farms and should therefore be promoted by the CAP. These technologies can be divided in three categories:

  1. Guidance Systems
  2. Variable Rate Applications (VRT) & Nutrient Sensing
  3. Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) Technologies

 

Each of these technologies offers distinct advantages in terms of sustainability and profitability for farmers.

 

CAP Reform: Support to Access Smart & Precision Agriculture Technologies Tailored to Farm Size

The CAP after 2020 should help improve access to Smart & Precision Agriculture Technologies through a Sustainable Productivity Bonus which would be adapted to the farm size and differ for different sizes of farms, namely: 

  • Farms < 50ha: as most of these farms do not have adequate access to PA technologies, they should be eligible for a dedicated subsidy to invest in basic PA technologies or a voucher for using contractual services. In addition, CEMA proposes for this size of farm to create a special voucher for buying small-scale communication technologies with agricultural applications, like smart phones, tablets, computers. This special and annual voucher for lower-scale technologies could be in the range of EUR 500-750.
  • Farms 50–100ha: CEMA proposes a two-tier system for this category of farms: they could either go for the Sustainable Productivity Bonus or apply for a dedicated Smart Technologies subsidy or voucher. CEMA estimates that a dedicated subsidy ranging between EUR 6,500–7,000 would be suitable to cover the basic PA needs farmers of this size category. The dedicated Smart Technologies subsidy could be used either for investing in advanced technologies or renting the services of a certified contractor/cooperative equipped with these technologies. In case of a direct investment, the subsidy could be allocated based on the normal depreciation period of the purchased technology, i.e. EUR 7,000 / 5 years = EUR 1,400 per year. If the farmer would be using a cooperative’s or contractors’ services, it is proposed to issue a smart technologies voucher to the farmer to be released by the contractor.
  • Farms >100 ha: a majority of these farms have at least access to one the fundamental PA technologies identified in this paper. For these farms, the Sustainable Productivity Bonus put forward would still apply and would practically work this way: “Farmers investing a given percentage of their revenue in certified sustainable technologies will automatically be eligible to the Greening direct CAP payments. Optionally, EU farmers who would not reach this percentage could still use the traditional Greening CAP scheme”. Other certified smart technologies could potentially be eligible to the Sustainable Productivity Bonus, like: Big Data, the Internet of things, smart devices smart-phones, tablets, software, applications, embarked computers, unmanned systems, drones, robots, and autonomous machinery.

In order to avoid unnecessary administrative costs and extra burdens for EU farmers, the manufacturers and producers should be able to self-certify the sustainable technologies they offer to EU farmers according to criteria clearly pre-defined in the CAP.

 

 

[1] This is CEMA’s 3rd Position Paper on the future of the CAP and supplements the two previous Papers issued in February 2015 and March 2017.[1] Both Papers are available at: www.cema-agri.org

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