CHAPTER 3: Innovationtheory
"Innovation is not a new phenomenon. Arguably,
it is as old as mankind itself. Where would we be without such
fundamental innovations as agriculture?"
33. In this chapter, we explore the theory of
innovation and, in particular, its application to the sustainable
intensification of agriculture discussed in Chapter 2.
34. Joseph Schumpeter is known as one of the
leading thinkers on innovation.
He saw innovation as a process over a period of time, involving
individuals as entrepreneurs as well as large companies. While
he considered it to be creative and beneficial, he also recognised
that it could be destructive for some, unleashing the "gales
of creative destruction".
It is important to note that, while boosting innovation is largely
positive, it can have negative consequences, particularly of a
social nature. When seeking to stimulate innovation in agriculture,
Governments must be alert to this side effect.
35. There have been major developments recently
in understanding agricultural innovation as a process, as outlined
in Box 2. These developments are important not least because they
provide insights into how agricultural innovation can be enhanced
across Europe in the 21st century.
36. For many years, agricultural innovation studies
were preoccupied with adoption and diffusion, an approach popularised
by Everett Rogers's pioneering work on US farming. Innovations
were seen as products developed by scientists, disseminated by
advisory bodies and then put into practice by farm businesses.
37. More recently, this view has been challenged
by findings that agricultural innovation is heavily influenced
by a wide range of local contextual issues, including the management
goals of farmers, the type of farm enterprise, and local contacts
that farmers may have. This depiction sees agricultural innovation
as a social process dependent on farm-level knowledge, rather
than the simple adoption of a new product or technique.
38. A third approach treats agricultural innovation
as a systemic process, involving not just farmers and scientists,
but a range of intermediary organisations and factors (agricultural
suppliers, wholesalers and retailers, and advisory bodies) as
well as responding to new market demand and changing societal
attitudes to innovation. Agricultural innovation from this viewpoint
involves coordinating new technology, social attitudes, and R&D
and advisory organisation activities, and introducing new policy
approaches where needed, through what is termed an "Agricultural
Knowledge and Information System". These are increasingly
becoming known as Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation
39. As we explore in Chapter 5, we heard that
these approaches are all present to some degree in contemporary
European agriculture and are not mutually exclusive.
Three theories of innovation as applied
Innovation as a top-down dissemination of new
technologies: science and research drive
innovation through knowledge transfer to farms (Beal and Rogers
1959; Rogers 1962,
Innovation as a bottom-up process:
local context and farm-level networks shape innovation outcomes
Clark 2005, 2009)
Innovation as a socio-technical process:
farm businesses, agricultural R&D and advisory organisations,
retailers, wholesalers, higher education and regulatory bodies
shape innovation as an agricultural knowledge and information
system (R½ling 1992;
Birner et al. 2006;
Klerkx and Leeuwis 2008).
40. Professor Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive,
Rothamsted Research, emphasised the centrality of innovation to
agriculture: "the whole history of agriculture has been about
As we were reminded, however, the very factors that have forced
agriculture to innovate through the agesa unique confluence
of climate, disease and price volatilityare also responsible
for a reluctance to take the bigger risks that drive innovation
forward. The National Institute for Farming and Food Investigation
and Technology of Spain (INIA) commented that "the sector
does not have, of its own, the energy or the resources to drive
the changes and innovation that are needed".
We agree that innovation is an intrinsic aspect of agriculture.
This does not mean, though, that the industry should be unsupported
in its efforts to innovate. Rather, the particular risks that
it facesclimate, disease and price volatilityand
the small size of the average agricultural business, must be recognised
as a basis for helping this industry to innovate.
41. Agricultural innovation can take many forms:
new technologies, such as biotechnology and new machinery; incremental
change, such as commercial decisions to plant a new crop or alter
a label; and process changes in the ways in which ideas are conceived,
developed and deployed. Innovation in agriculture interacts closely
with innovation throughout the food chain.
42. In the course of our evidence, we heard of
many examples of innovation in the agricultural sector. Hugh Crabtree,
Director of Farm Energy and Control Services Ltd informed us about
the PIVIT (Pig Improvement Via Information Technology) initiative.
Still in development, this initiative between producers, academics
and suppliers aims to "have most professional UK pig production
sites on line and subscribing to data analysis, interpretation
and knowledge transfer services within 10 years". The new
IT tool will allow utility and water use, feed intake, environment
and growth to be measured in real time. It is an example of both
technological and process innovation.
43. Mr de Castro explained that "quality
is one of the main issues to make European food production more
competitive", particularly as "the consumer today is
interested in knowing more about food".
The EU has three agricultural product quality schemes,
allowing protection for a particular term on grounds of geography
and techniques or tradition. Examples include: "Balsamic
Vinegar from Modena", "Camembert from Normandy"
and "Traditional Bramley Apple Pie Filling". These schemes
allow producers to add value to their products through marketing;
the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) told us that farmers
were doing this "in a far more innovative way than they were
even 10 years ago".
44. A recurrent innovation in our evidence was
precision farming. The machinery manufacturer, John Deere, explained
that GPS technology
is now fitted to approximately 20% of new farm tractors and 50%
of new combine harvesters. Such systems "reduce the overlap
in field work allowing work to be completed in fewer passes across
the field, with savings in fuel, time and other inputs such as
fertiliser or spray chemicals".
Mr Mark James, product line manager for the company, said
that savings on these inputs, which improve the economic viability
of a farm, are in the region of 10%.
Professor John Oldham, of the Scottish Agricultural College
(SAC), regretted that GPS technology had not been adopted more
widely, which he attributed to the high cost and slow return on
45. A number of witnesses made reference to the
potential of genetically modified crops, views which we highlight
in Chapter 6. One particular example brought to our attention
was that of genetically modified grapevines in France. Some work
has taken place in order to establish whether genetically modified
rootstocks could tackle, or at least delay, the onset of a severe
disease, grapevine fanleaf virus (GFLV).
46. Witnesses also emphasised that genetic modification
was only one form of biotechnology available to the plant breeding
sector. The use of genomics, such as genetic markers (see Box
3), was one such example.
Plants have been bred for over 100 years to resist
pest and disease, traditionally through a trial-and-error approach
in which large numbers of crosses are made from many sources of
possible resistance, such as wild relatives of the crop species.
Progenies are evaluated for characters of direct economic interest
(for example, grain yield and grain quality) in target environments.
Good performing crosses and progenies are selected for further
use or testing.
This approach has been highly successful in many
crop species and numerous breeding programmes, with cereal, potato
and oilseed crops benefiting from the development of resistant
varieties with improved yields that form the mainstay of food
production. However, such conventional breeding approaches can
take 5 to 10 years to create required plant varieties.
During the past two decades, molecular tools have
resulted in the identification, mapping, and isolation of genes
in a wide range of crop species. A genetic marker is a sequence
of DNA or protein that can be screened to reveal genetic variation
in a crop species, which may arise due to mutation or alteration
in the relevant specific region of the plant genome.
Genetic markers occur in the nuclear and organelle
(chloroplast and mitochondria) genomes. These three genomes differ
in their evolutionary characteristics, for example, inheritance
and sequence and structural mutation rates, which determine the
types of genetic issues that they are used to study. In Marker
Assisted Selection (MAS), plant DNA is screened to detect any
genetic variation that may underlie a desired trait such as disease
resistance. Several traits and hundreds of plant varieties can
be simultaneously analysed. MAS has had a significant impact on
several major crops, including maize and sugar beet. Despite its
potential, the cost of the technology has limited its impact on
the UK's major cereal crops thus far. MAS works most efficiently
where there is a substantial genetic knowledge base, but in less
well studied species this may not be available, and may be expensive
47. Professor Oldham referred to the use
of genomics as a form of innovation in the livestock sector. Genomic
selection, he explained, can be used to improve traits to do with
health in particular, where different individuals may be more
or less susceptible to different diseases.
His SAC colleague, Professor Geoff Simm, suggested that genomic
selection in livestock is an area "of major opportunity for
Europe ... because of the costs of the technologies and the need
to share skills and create joint approaches to exploiting them."
This might be within the context of a network such as SAC's involvement
in an Animal Task Force with Dutch and French colleagues (see
Chapter 4). It will of course be important to bear in mind the
animal welfare implications of genomics as such technologies are
48. EU agricultural production is not restricted
to food, and includes outputs such as cotton and wool for use
in clothing. The innovative development of crops for industrial
application, such as hemp for housing insulation, was mentioned
by both Incrops and
the CLA. Another crop with industrial application was willow.
Professor Moloney described it as "a very good example
of a reproducible biomass which could become part of a supply
chain to power stations". He added that technology in the
form of such crops also provides refuge for wildlife, and sequesters
a substantial amount of carbon, thus helping to reduce the carbon
footprint of agriculture.
InCrops also gave us evidence about the innovative use of algae
(see Box 4).
Innovation in use of algae
Algae and their products have the potential to contribute
to a wide variety of sectors, including energy, food, feed, and
fertilisers. In addition, algae can play an important role in
providing "bio-remediation" services: for example, they
can scrub CO2 and NOx out of flue gases,
and remove nitrates, phosphates and certain heavy metals out of
Generation of relevant expertise is accelerating;
encouraging examples are given, amongst others, by two companies.
Scottish Bioenergy Ltd collaborates with whisky distilleries and
several research institutes. The liquid residue after distilling
is rich in nutrients, but also contaminated with copper. Traditionally
the distilleries have paid farmers to spread this on fields which,
due to copper accumulation, then need to be set aside. Algae remove
the copper and nutrients from the liquid residue (simultaneously
using CO2 from the brewing process). The algal biomass
may be used to generate energy, or to feed pigs or cattle (for
which copper is a valuable micronutrient).
The Welsh company Merlin Biodevelopments Ltd has
patented a process to turn the liquid residue from on-farm anaerobic
digestion (AD) into algal biomass. This turns a bottle-neck in
the expansion of ADthe storage of liquid digestate until
it can be spread on the fieldsinto an opportunity for generating
added value. In the simplest model, the algal biomass could be
fed into the AD plant, leading to a closed loop for production
of biomethane, but Merlin Biodevelopments use the biomass for
higher value purposes, including animal feed. High performance
fertiliser with low carbon footprint is another possible application.
One particular benefit of this technology is that it can recover,
and recycle, most of the water used in beef production, which
is a highly water intensive industry.
Along similar lines, the National Farmers' Union
(NFU) added that "farmers are installing on-farm bioenergy
equipment such as biomass boilers, combined heat and power units,
anaerobic digesters as well as photovoltaic cells and wind turbines
on their land and buildings".
There is clearly scope for the industrial application of agricultural
innovation to make a significant contribution to job creation.
49. It is clear to us that the farming industry
and scientific community are contributing to agricultural innovation
in a large variety of ways. But the reach of innovation in EU
agriculture must be extended, if substantial future risks to European
food security are to be avoided, and to respond to the need for
sustainable intensification of agriculture. Member States and
the Commission should both play a role in shaping the framework
to strengthen this process. We look in detail at that role
in the following chapters.
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Edited by Fagerberg J; Mowery, David C; Nelson, Richard R. Oxford
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in the communication of new technology", Public Opinion Quarterly,
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Birner, R., K. Davis, J. Pender, E. Nkonya, P. Anandajayasekeram,
J. Ekboir, A. Mbabu, D. Spielman, D. Horna, S. Benin, and W. Kisamba-Mugerwa,
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Q 114 Back
IEUA 12 Back
IEUA 7 Back
Q 218 Back
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical
Indication (PGI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).
The European Commission recently proposed a simplification of
the system (COM(2010)733). Back
Q 147 Back
Global Positioning System-a satellite navigation system Back
IEUA 45 Back
Q 712 Back
Q 338: but see Q 716 for detailed information about the economic
case for precision farming technology. Back
Q 430, IEUA 37 Back
QQ 80, 306 Back
Q 351 Back
Q 640 Back
IEUA 21, Q 147 Back
Q 110 Back
Algae are unicellular or multicellular organisms which occur in
fresh or salt water, that have chlorophyll and other pigments
but lack true stems, roots and leaves. They include seaweed. Back
Based on information provided by InCrops Back
IEUA 14 Back