Dear colleagues, before I begin, I want to formally thank everyone who has participated in Infoweek. The amount of expertise present in this room is tremendous, whether it be from a science, farming, food business or ICT business perspective.
We are also fortunate to have representatives from national and regional authorities, as well as experts from EU-wide organisations.
These very rich and detailed discussions have shown how we can work across policy areas, across scientific disciplines and across value chains, in the pursuit of a common goal.
That common goal is the digitisation of the rural economy, including farming and food production.
At the European Commission, we believe this goal is worthwhile, and we believe it is achievable.
Digital technologies are already, as we speak, transforming the way we produce our food, manage our land, the way we eat and consume our food and even the way we do research.
This summer I had the opportunity to visit the R&D centres of several major agricultural machinery companies such as Claas, John Deere and Bayer. I saw with my own eyes how digital technologies are helping to achieve a more sustainable and competitive agriculture.
We are clearly moving in the right direction: up to 70% of new farming equipment sold today includes a precision agriculture component.
At the other end of the supply chain, local meal delivery driven by internet platforms is a very dynamic market which attracts significant investor attention.
But we are still in the very early phase of making these technologies fully accessible to our farmers. The evolution towards a digitised agri-food sector is still moving too slowly.
And we need to speed it up, because the challenges facing farmers today are immense: they are asked to produce more and better food while using fewer inputs; they are tasked with reducing their environmental footprint; they are expected to meet evolving consumer demands; and they are expected to cope with climate change and volatile global markets.
More and better technological assistance is the key to success for the 21st century farmer.
On-farm digital technologies will help to assess the exact state of soils and plants, including through remote sensing. Precision farming will decrease water consumption and help optimise nutrient management and the use of chemicals.
The use of sensors can also improve animal welfare by continuously recording and evaluating livestock health. Or in relation to crops, EU projects are working on swarms of drones which identify weeds and destroy them, decreasing the need for herbicides.
Taking advantage of increased data possibilities, including satellite data, digitisation will also drive the administrative simplification of the CAP.
New technologies also increase food safety and traceability by improving the mechanisms to enhance and monitor food products' safety and quality throughout their whole lifecycle, from farm to fork.
Today's consumers want to know more about the content and safety of their food, where and how it was produced and what its environmental and social impacts are.
Building on this demand could help farmers move towards a more customised – and possibly more localised- food offer.
Future research and innovation support with regard to digital technologies will have to place the needs of farmers, food businesses and citizens at its centre. It will have to recognise today's much more open innovation ecosystem, in which the entrepreneurial drive of farmers, SMEs and start-ups are seen as mandatory alongside a bottom-up, problem-oriented approach.
The EU has a key role to play to enable the contribution of these technologies to a more sustainable food and nutrition system, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Of course doing so should also increase competitiveness, investment, growth and job creation, particularly in rural areas.
Rising to this challenge would deliver clear benefits for farmers and rural areas, but also for society as a whole.
For this reason we have made the digitisation of agriculture a core priority of our activities, both under the CAP and under Horizon 2020.
Today's gathering concludes a series of events organised by the Commission to address these challenges.
All these events contribute to completing the Digital Single Market, one of the ten Juncker priorities, which it is estimated could contribute €415 billion to the European economy.
In the past months, topics such as Digital Innovation Hubs, data sharing and the role of digitisation in rural economies were debated. What did we learn at these events? Above all, we learned that we need to invest to turn this potential into real change on the ground.
We need to invest in business hubs which help connect farm businesses with technology providers, scientists and those able to finance innovation.
We need tailor-made support, simpler and better coordinated, which takes into account the specificities of each player like small farmers, SMEs or early adopters. We need to upgrade the skills of all actors in that arena through ambitious training, education and advice.
And of course we need to address the huge rural-urban gap in the provision of broadband.
While 76 % of the EU population now has access to fast broadband only 40 % of homes in rural areas have such access.
This is a serious handicap for the development of new businesses, jobs and prosperity. The lack of connectivity has an extremely high cost for rural populations in general but for agriculture in particular.
To help to close this gap, around €6 billion has been dedicated to improve the roll-out of broadband, especially in rural and peripheral areas, benefiting around 18 million rural citizens.
Together with my colleagues Commissioners Oettinger, Cretu and Gabriel, we invited Member States to establish Broadband Competence offices to provide a "one stop shop" for supporting effective investment in broadband projects, with the help of a Brussels based Support Facility, which will be officially launched on Monday.
Also on Monday, together with my colleagues Vice-President Ansip and Commissioner Gabriel I will launch a 5 point plan for delivering rural broadband, which I urge you to study closely.
There are a number of hindrances that we need to address in order to ensure that technological innovations go hand in hand with societal needs and expectations. The question of data ownership is very fraught.
Farmers are reluctant to get locked into a relationship with a single supplier from whom they would have to get all their equipment and who would hold a right to data produced on their farm, data which could potentially be used against their interests afterwards.
We need to ensure that there is an open market, built on the protection of data rights and interoperability which allows switching between providers or connecting with new applications.
It is also important to invest in activities which help to explain and raise awareness of the dynamics of the digitisation process. We need our farmers to fully understand the socio-economic challenges to which agriculture, food value chains and rural areas will be confronted, and how digitisation can help to address these challenges.
In the H2020 work programme for 2016-2017, around 40 million euro was invested in projects testing and developing solutions based on robotics, big data or internet of things technologies.
Under the new work programme for 2018-2020, we will step up our efforts with over 100 million euro invested in the digital transformation of agriculture and around 40 million euro in personalised nutrition and food clouds.
This new Work Programme reflects the discussions that we had with a broad range of actors such as farmers, food companies, policy-makers, technology providers, researchers and end users in relation to the support needed for a real digital transformation in agriculture. It can be structured in three blocks:
First, developing the innovation ecosystem needed for the uptake of digital technologies by the sector. In that sense Digital Innovation Hubs and advisory services will play a crucial role.
Second, investments in technology development through the integration of platforms for the development of new data driven business models for agriculture and rural areas, including a pilot on digital solutions and e-tools to modernise the CAP.
Finally, exploring the effects in the use of technologies in agriculture and rural areas, including negative ones, in order to anticipate and mitigate those impacts with proper policy development.
As I said earlier, digitisation also changes the way we do research, with increasing access to vast amounts of data and science results accelerating the creation and exchange of knowledge. This is why we will invest in an open science clouds for food science.
For each one of these points, the work programme calls for proposals with real ambition and means: the ball is now in your court. I wish you all the best in the development of your proposals and I look forward to the outcomes.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we have done a lot but we need to do more. While I can't go into specifics at this stage, I can tell you that we intend to give a prominent role to research and innovation in the Common Agricultural Policy post 2020. This includes of course a very prominent role for digitisation in the future CAP.
Digital technologies enable big leaps in economic and environmental performance, but the uptake of new technologies remains far below expectations and the situation is very variable from one country to another.
We urgently need to address these gaps and make sure everyone, including small and medium-sized farmers can access technology and benefit from it.
We also must seize the opportunities that digital technologies offer to connect businesses, producers, consumers and scientists along value chains.
Only stronger synergies between the common agricultural policy, research and innovation and the digital single market will allow us to succeed in the future. I am confident that together we can make it, and I want to add that I am very fortunate to have commission colleagues like Carlos Moedas and Mariya Gabriel in this regard.
I very much appreciate their constructive approach to creating greater synergies between agriculture, research, innovation and the digital agenda; and I salute their commitment to the provision of better services for our rural communities, in line with the recommendations of the Cork 2 Declaration for "A Better Life in Rural Areas".
Let me conclude by wishing you all a very fruitful day and best of luck in your applications to our calls.