European agriculture has undergone a considerable amount of change thanks to the development and increased use of digital technologies across the field. In order to enable a smooth transition in the industry’s digital transformation, the European Commission aims at implementing a common data space to support the trustworthy pooling and sharing of data.

In April 2019, Member States signed the declaration on “A smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas” which stressed the need for the pooling and sharing of agricultural data between farmers and throughout the food chain. It is well identified in the European data strategy, which foresees the rollout of common data spaces across Europe. This has led to the concept of building a common European data space for smart agri-food applications, funded through the Digital Europe Programme (DEP), which is currently in preparation. Under the DEP, the Commission plans to support the deployment of technologies, processes and standards needed to operationalise such a data space, building on existing platforms and datasets, including public data, and possibly based on a pan-European federated cloud infrastructure.

 

The September 2020 expert workshop on a common European agricultural data space was organised by the Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT) in close co-operation with the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI). It was the ideal opportunity to discuss the role that the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies will play in the digitisation of agriculture. During the roundtable, it was emphasised that true interoperability must be enabled among the various data and service platforms available: this could be achieved by endorsing a pragmatic and incremental approach, and accepting that different systems and platforms will adopt different standards, allowing them to continue to co-exist. Read the full event report here.

 

A common data space will allow the sharing of agricultural data across borders and throughout the entire value chain, by combining existing platforms and databases and considering the stakeholder-led Code of Conduct on agricultural data sharing. Sharing data in agriculture will speed up the emergence of the data market as a means to make the relevant data available for developing innovative services, better policy insights, and help the emergence of artificial intelligence-enabled solutions.

 

A common European agricultural data space may support the creation of a marketplace enabling the monetisation of various data applications and services. The marketplace could allow SMEs and start-ups to create new business value through the management, integration, and consumption of available data. This will let suppliers and third parties reach new markets as well as scale-up their target markets.

 

But just how feasible is the federation of farm management systems (FMS) and data platforms? The transparent control of data access and digital sovereignty are two necessary elements of data-sharing infrastructures. In terms of digital privacy, what constitutes “personal data” in agricultural data still requires some clarification, but creating a common European data space is necessary in order to provide stakeholders with access to some agreed sub-set of the data generated by systems such as crop management, livestock or dairy monitoring.

 

Are FMS suppliers ready to share data and federate their platforms with other suppliers? The general consensus is that “yes”, they are, however there remains some work to be done with reaching an agreement on an overarching architecture, a collaborative approach and common building blocks. Many stakeholders participating in the workshop indicated that they were in favour of a technical implementation based on distributed architectures, rather than centralised ones, building on public-private cooperation.

 

Which public datasets would be relevant for increasing the effectiveness of a data-sharing infrastructure? The data space would promote the collection of data and give free access to open data such as satellite images, weather data and soil maps. This includes data from the list of high-value datasets to be established under the Open Data Directive.

 

To conclude, Europe’s farmers need to exploit the collected data from their systems in a smarter and safer way, with a secure data-sharing infrastructure, such as the proposed common European agricultural data space, in order to maximise their efficiency, become more productive and remain competitive whilst minimising their impact on the environment. The Commission’s goal is to support farm workers by promoting user-friendly platforms and enhancing sustainability, performance and competitiveness in agriculture.