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December 2, 2016 << back >>

“We Need one Standard Digital Language in the EU”

“We will have to produce more food with less input in order to minimize our environmental footprint,” said Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, in his opening keynote speech at a panel discussion in the European Parliament in Brussels. Together with experts from SAP and Bayer’s Digital Farming team, he discussed current challenges in moving digitization forward.

With the theme of “Digital Farming Revolution in Agriculture – Making Ambitions a Reality,” over 60 participants discussed the possibilities of Digital Farming technologies, such as helping farmers work more precisely, efficiently and sustainably, as well as having the potential to offer consumers greater transparency. Hosted by Lambert van Nistelrooij, Member of the European Parliament, the panel was not only an opportunity to give the European Commission the chance to share its ambitions in digitization; there were also experts from SAP, Bayer and a precision farmer talking about data ownership and how to overcome hurdles for uptake and greater development of digital agriculture, for example.

Need for education and qualification

One big hurdle is the gap in digital knowledge and expertise. “That’s why we need to teach farmers how to use these modern technologies,” said Dutch precision farmer Jacob Van Den Borne, who runs his 400-plus-hectare farm near Venlo (Netherlands). Günther Oettinger shared this opinion: “Education and qualification are key elements for both young and old farmers to make Digital Farming a reality, so we will have to offer them more educational programs.” Andree-Georg Girg, Commercialization Lead Digital Farming at Bayer’s CropScience Division, fully agreed. But there is more to it than that. “We need an open and constructive discussion together with farmers and policy makers about how to move Digital Farming forward within the legal framework of agricultural production in a very heterogenic Europe,” he said.

Data access and usage in the spotlight

During the event, the panelists also touched on the subject of agricultural data – a discussion that especially raises questions in the public debate. “There needs to be a balance between data privacy and the optimal use of data for a data-driven economy to be successful,” Oettinger said. “Without a clear understanding and trust that data surrounding Digital Farming technologies will be used responsibly and transparently, the future of data-driven agriculture may not be achievable. Bayer has taken a very clear stance on this question: any data a grower agrees to share with Bayer within Bayer’s Digital Farming Solutions will remain under the control of the grower,” according to Girg. But to be successful, further steps need to be taken in order to ensure that digital technology’s full potential can be used. Take connectivity for example: connectivity, particularly in rural areas, is one key enabler in achieving the goals of Digital Farming. Europe will not have the booster to make this happen without it. Commissioner Oettinger pointed out that, “we need a smart strategy to attract and involve telecommunication companies in supporting us, in order to realize connectivity in coverage.”

Strengthening the image of agriculture

The penetration of Digital Farming technologies was very difficult in the past. That’s why cooperation will be key in promoting it in the future and in strengthening the image of agriculture. All players will have to speak the same language. This was an aspect the Commissioner was very adamant about: “We have 25 languages in the EU. It is part of our own culture, however, to be successful in moving digitization in Europe forward. For this we need one standard digital language.”