Commissioner Phil Hogan

 

Speech at EPP Group External Bureau Meeting

 

- “Innovation in Agriculture"

 

8th March 2018, Valencia, Spain

 

– Check Against Delivery –

 

Elected members, dear colleagues,

I am very happy to be back in Valencia today and I want to commend the Partido Popular, and particularly my good friend Esteban Gonzalez Pons for hosting this event. The EPP family has always been at the forefront of the European project, including the development of the CAP.

I believe we can say with confidence that the CAP is one of the most successful policies of the EU; the only fully funded EU policy, which guarantees food security for our citizens, and which has made Europe the best address for food in the world.

However, we risk, at times, taking this success for granted. In my view, we should never forget the work of farmers in providing high quality and safe food for our people – which is made possible by a strong and well-funded CAP.

That is not to say that the CAP is a perfect policy instrument. It is not, so we are now embarking on a drive to simplify and modernise the policy.

As a political party with such strong and deep roots in rural areas, the EPP understands that agriculture and rural life has to move with the times, and innovation is central to that philosophy.

Sometimes you have to remind people that farmers and rural entrepreneurs have always been innovators. Every generation develops new technologies and systems to improve yields and to develop better ways to produce food and drink.

Right here in the Valencia region, there is a long history of agricultural innovation, ranging from the medieval drainage schemes in the Horta area, to today's world-leading research projects on citrus fruit at the Valencian Institute of Agrarian Research.

The future challenges facing agriculture will require us to continue to innovate. In the EU, we need to broaden and deepen our cooperation to meet these challenges – and our shared Common Agricultural Policy offers the best tools to achieve this goal.

Likewise, if we are serious about meeting our international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Paris climate agreement, we cannot hope to do so without significant agricultural and rural Research and Innovation.

We have already made real progress in creating the right enabling conditions for improved agricultural innovation, but we need to do more, and faster.

At the moment, it takes on average twenty years for a new research project to be practically applied in agriculture. Therefore we need to do more today to develop the technologies and systems of tomorrow.

We also need to make better use of the knowledge already available. The farming community needs improved access to new technologies, new business models and new forms of cooperation.

By 2020, the EU will have invested over€ 1bn in 180 multi-actor projects: two thirds of the overall budget for agricultural research under Horizon 2020. This is an unprecedented level of support for farmers to step into the driving seat of research.

A further key obstacle to achieving our goals lies in the so-called "digital divide" whereby farmers and rural areas lag behind their urban neighbours in relation to connectivity and modern technologies. Bridging the digital divide is one of the most fundamental challenges facing agriculture and rural areas today, and policymakers everywhere need to do more to help build that bridge.

The urban-rural digital divide is not just an imbalance of technology or connectivity: it is an imbalance of opportunity.

Thankfully, there is a growing realisation that our rural areas have so much to offer when it comes to solving many of our 21st century problems. When it comes to climate and environmental action, or developing the bio-economy and circular economy, or creating high-quality jobs in the agri-food and broader rural economy, who is better placed than rural area to deliver real results?

I have been working closely with my EPP Colleague, Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, to accelerate the rollout of rural broadband, with an action plan including measurable targets and clear timelines.

This will facilitate a budding revolution in smart agriculture.  We are supporting this transformation under Horizon 2020, with €165 million allocated to projects testing and developing solutions based on robotics, big data or internet of things technologies.

My services in DG AGRI have been organizing since 2016 a set of events with a focus on the digital transformation of the farming sector and rural areas.

All these initiatives have to be seen in the wider context of the European Commission's plan to complete the Digital Single Market.

Finally, let me look to the future. The Commission Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming” puts innovation at the centre of a modernised CAP post 2020. It acknowledges the huge potential of technological development and digitisation in addressing the current and future challenges the farming sector faces.

We are looking into the best ways to further improve and strengthen the uptake of R&I in the sector, and the synergies that we have built between the CAP and Horizon 2020 are a solid basis on which we can do even more in the future.

I am grateful in this regard to my colleague, EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas, for the excellent cooperation we enjoy.

I very much appreciate his constructive approach to creating greater synergies between the CAP and Horizon 2020, improving the linkages around agriculture, research, innovation and the digital agenda.

With less than 2% of the H2020 budget, Carlos and I do a lot to meet the challenges around plant and animal diseases, climate change, food technology, and soil and water policy.

We are investing in ways to bring research and practice closer together, in particular through Multi-actor projects and Thematic Networks. The first feedback we have received on this approach is very encouraging.

The projects under Horizon 2020 enable farmers to work in cooperation with researchers and other stakeholders, notably by putting into practice ideas that meet their specific needs.

More than 500 EIP-AGRI operational groups (OGs) have started under the CAP's rural development programmes. These hold fantastic potential for creating solutions to make farming smarter, more efficient and more sustainable, and we expect to have 3200 Operational Groups by the end of 2020. 

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Spain, which has planned to fund 853 Operational Groups in the period 2014-2020.

This is the highest number among all EU Member States, and demonstrates in a very concrete way Spain's commitment to innovation in agriculture. I would also like to thank Spain for being a very active member of the EIP-AGRI network at European level.

We can use this example and model to ensure that agriculture can scale up on R&I, and on better systems of cooperation.

Building on this strong foundation, a number of options are open to us looking beyond 2020. I want to share with you some of my thinking about the future CAP in respect of innovation:

First, it is essential that we enhance Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS): the networks of people and organisations that generate, share, and use agriculture-related knowledge and information at national and regional level.

The EU has an interest in ensuring that a well-functioning AKIS exists throughout its territory, to address EU level objectives such as smart and resilient agriculture, environmental sustainability and climate resilience.

In our future policy we must insist that farmers have access to good advisory services to guide them through this agri-tech revolution.

Second, generational renewal is a core priority of the next CAP. Young, highly-trained farmers are the conduit through which innovation and new technology can be translated into action in the field.   It is my intention to come forward with an ambitious package of proposals under the Future CAP package targeting support to our young farmers, to help them flourish and do what they do best: innovate. 

Small and young farmers must have access to our financial support to help adapt to precision agriculture. This will improve both their incomes and their contribution to environment and climate targets.

Third, we are committed to reinforcing support for rural communities through investment, innovation support, and the provision of innovative financing tools for improving skills, services and infrastructure.

This commitment to a strong rural development pillar is our concrete response to the Cork 2.0 Declaration, entitled "A Better Life in Rural Areas" and its ten policy orientations.

As the policy evolves and new challenges emerge, the second pillar allows us to make real forward strides in the area of innovation and technology.

Finally, we cannot deliver an innovative, forward looking CAP without the financing to back it. 

Sometimes, there is a temptation among some politicians and some political parties to state that the CAP has done its job, and we can therefore cut the agriculture budget by 30%. I will not be supporting this political lunacy, and the EPP must not do so either.

We are on safe ground here in Spain, and I welcome the strong support and commitment given by Prime Minister Rajoy, Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina, and Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete to a well-financed CAP post 2020.  It is not fair that the farmers of Europe should potentially pay twice for Brexit, from the orange groves of Valencia to the reindeer forests of Finland.

For that reason, I am proud to see the EPP out in the lead again on fighting for a strong MFF and a strong CAP – Commissioner Oettinger and President Juncker have been clear on these points.

And indeed, I think we are well placed with our EPP document on the future of the MFF, which commits the EPP to fight for at least an equal share of the budget for the CAP in the future MFF.

I would like to personally thank EPP President Joseph Daul, Christian Schmidt, Michel Dantin MEP and Marian-Jean Marinescu for convening all actors in the EPP family to finalise this important document.

Together, we are perfectly placed to simplify and modernise our proud CAP.

We are a party of innovation, and we must support our rural innovators and entrepreneurs, our farmers.  They are our natural and strong political base, and we should build our EPP support on top of this political base, and not do anything to remove this solid political foundation in our rural areas. Thank you.