Agriculture, crops, natural resources and forestry
Agriculture remains central to the economy of rural areas and therefore plays a major role in all aspects of rural development. Multifunctional agricultural systems, producing food, other goods and services, are important elements in the strategy of environmental integration and sustainable development and should be fully integrated in rural development policies.
Interdisciplinary research on farming systems, agro- and forest-ecosystems (and other research integrating biological, agricultural, socio-economic and policy research)
It is expected that implementation of the agroecology concept will provide significant opportunities for smallholders and labour intensive multifunctional farming in developing countries. Many aspects of theEnvironment Technologies Action Plan (ETAP), the Water Initiative, the EU Biodiversity Action Plan and the Renewed Sustainable Development Strategy are supported under this sub-area. In addition the TEEB study on the "Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" suggests that the value of preserving biodiversity from terrestrial systems will be in the order of 7% of estimated GDP in 2050. The European Council of 20 June 2008 pointed to the "need to pursue innovation, research and development of agricultural production, notably to enhance its energy efficiency, productivity growth and ability to adapt to climate change." Similar conclusions have been drawn by farm organisations and the Chambers of Agriculture .
Management and use of natural resources (e.g. water and soil and functional biodiversity) in agriculture and forestry
Life on earth depends mainly on the good health of a superficial layer of soil and food security will be in jeopardy if the current trend in top soil erosion and fertility loss is not addressed with adequate research efforts. Erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides, contamination and sealing are increasingly threatening agricultural soils and a global sustainable approach is needed to reverse this negative trend. A constant and increasing effort at EU level to support research addressing agricultural soil protection and conservation is needed. This includes research in support to the recently launched Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection. Fresh water shortage is a related global problem which will be a worldwide concern over the next decades and one of the principal sources of social and political instability and conflicts in some regions. Since agriculture is one of the more water dependant sectors, research is needed to improve the efficiency of its use in agricultural production systems with the aim of decreasing consumption and pressure on fresh water reserves. These measures need to go hand in hand with efforts to maintain the water storage and conservation capacity of forests. These activities are in line with the goals of the Water Framework Directive and also the Forestry Action Plan.
Sustainable and competitive plant production including low-input and organic farming
Agricultural production is undergoing major changes, having to cope increasingly with the effects of climate change and environmental degradation while at the same time having to meet the demands of an increasing world population, changing consumption patterns and new markets for biofuels and biomaterials. The long-term viability of agriculture as a source for food, feed fibre and fuels will depend on our ability to reconcile agricultural production and environmental integrity. Research on sustainable production systems is crucial to developing the knowledge base to implement required agriculture innovations. Organic and low input farming are intrinsic to this approach as indicated in the Organic Farming Action Plan.
Increased plant resource efficiency; adaptation of plants, crops and forest trees to biotic and abiotic stress
Yield stability and productivity of European crops will depend upon the ability of farmers and foresters to apply effective management practices and to introduce varieties that are better adapted to biotic and abiotic stress conditions, making efficient use of available resources as indicated in the Forestry Action Plan.
Plant health & Plant protection
The work of National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) relies on scientific expertise, but the services providing this expertise increasingly lack staff, funds and training. On the one hand, the whole scientific basis of the phytosanitary field is quickly eroding. Taxonomy, classical plant pathology and other scientific fields which are vital for sustaining sound public policy are threatened with extinction, because they are no longer in the forefront of science priorities. On the other hand, the need for phytosanitary expertise, training and research is substantially and continuously increasing. New developments and new technology have to be mastered, going far beyond existing expertise. As explained in the EPPO declaration unless urgent action is taken, indispensable expertise and scientific disciplines will irreversibly disappear, and NPPOs will be unable to carry out their duties. It is also necessary to minimise exposure to pesticides and their residues for the benefit of the environment, health and to control resistance mechanisms of pests and pathogens. In this context the EU Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides has been developed. Sustainable ways of producing safe and quality agricultural and forest products can also be encouraged by research on durable pest control strategies. Research on alternative and innovative pest control methods and plant tolerance and resistance needs to be maintained and developed. Helping to shape the research needs in this area are a number of important EU initiatives within DG SANCO, the ERA-NET EUPHRESCO and the ENDURE Network of Excellence.
Forestry systems, production and services (including bioenergy); tree related research
Beside their production capacity within various market sectors, forests also have the potential to protect the environment and to provide a wealth of amenities such as carbon stocking, biodiversity and safeguarding habitats, soil protection, flood prevention and other environmental services, as well as social and recreational functions. Forests can deploy their full potential if they are managed sustainably and supported by a steady research effort. In this respect research and technological development, diversification and innovation are needed to ensure that the European forest sector remains dynamic and competitive. In addition promoting renewable energy sources is a key element in the European Union's energy strategy which aims at substituting 12% of Europe's total energy consumption with energy from renewable sources by 2010. The forests sector is expected to provide a significant contribution to meeting this goal. Many of these forest production and service goals are explained within networks and platforms such as the Forestry Technology Platform, the IUFRO –Global network for Forest Science Cooperation, and the Forestry Action Plan.