Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents



The House of Lords European Union Committee will conduct an inquiry, through its Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Sub-Committee (Sub-Committee D), into how innovation in EU agriculture can be encouraged in the context of new challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and the need to encourage sustainable improvements in output. The inquiry will be held against the background of the EU's new Strategy for Growth and Jobs, Europe 2020, in which innovation is central. It was agreed by the European Council on 17 June 2010 that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should play its part in delivering that strategy. The focus of the Committee's inquiry is not the upcoming reform of the CAP, although some of our conclusions may relate to that debate.

There is a relatively well-developed discourse on the future of the CAP, but this has tended to focus on the architecture of the policy rather than the flanking measures that might assist innovation in the sector and thus improve its competitiveness. The Committee has itself published relevant reports in recent years, including "The Future of the CAP" (2008), and "Adapting to Climate Change: EU agriculture and forestry" (2010).

In the course of our inquiry into adapting agriculture and forestry to climate change, we heard some evidence to suggest that agricultural research capacity has shrunk over several decades and that, even when the knowledge exists, there appears to be a significant problem in terms of knowledge transfer. At the same time, it was clear that new technologies would become increasingly important in order to adapt agriculture to existing and future challenges, such as climate change, water scarcity and the need to encourage sustainable improvements in productivity, not least in the context of food security.

We consider "innovation" to refer to: new technologies, such as biotechnology and new machinery; incremental change, such as commercial decisions to plant a new crop or alter a label; and to the more generic processes by which ideas are conceived, developed and deployed throughout the agricultural sector.

The issues

The Committee is seeking evidence from interested parties on the issues outlined below. On the basis of that evidence, the Committee will formulate conclusions and recommendations to inform the House of Lords, and to contribute to the development of policy on innovation in EU agriculture by the UK Government and the EU institutions over the next few years.

The Committee invites you to submit written evidence. The Committee would find it helpful if you would focus on a number of specific issues, listed below. You may also wish to draw our attention to additional issues not addressed by the questions below. It is recognised that those submitting evidence will not necessarily have an interest in all the questions and may therefore wish to be selective.

Views are sought on the following:

Definition of "innovation" in the agricultural context

(1)  We have outlined above how we currently perceive "innovation" in the agricultural context, but we would welcome views on your interpretation of innovation in the agricultural sector.

Innovation in EU agriculture as a strategic objective

(2)  The EU believes that innovation and knowledge are key to the EU's economic growth and that all sectors should play their part. Do you agree that innovation in EU agriculture should therefore be pro-actively encouraged? Alternatively, do you see agriculture as a distinct sector faced with particular challenges to which the sector will inevitably react in an innovative manner?

Innovation today

(3)  How is EU agriculture innovating now? Can you explain under what conditions the agricultural sector is best placed to innovate? Do you have examples of circumstances where innovation would have been possible and would have been helpful, but did not occur?

Obstacles to innovation

(4)  What are the current obstacles to innovation? Is there a shortfall in research capacity and in technology transfer? To what extent do issues such as intellectual property rules, resistance to new ideas, inertia, fear of failure and lack of communication block innovation in the agricultural sector? What are the obstacles to land managers incorporating forestry into their businesses?

Demographic structure of the sector

(5)  To what extent is the demographic structure of the sector (an ageing farming population) an obstacle to innovation; and, conversely, might greater innovation in agriculture serve to bring new recruits to the sector? What incentives currently exist to encourage young people to agriculture; what further efforts might be made?

Future challenges driving innovation forward

(6)  Looking forward, agriculture faces significant challenges, although those challenges may bring opportunities too. What challenges do you think will drive forward innovation in EU agriculture in the future? What do you think should be the responses to these challenges, and who would you expect to deliver these responses?

Knowledge and innovation systems

(7)  Analysts have suggested in the past that innovation is best served by co-ordinated formal and informal systems of researchers, consumers, producers, retailers, advisers and government. What sort of systems do you think are required to support innovation in EU agriculture?

Research and Development

(8)  Assuming that R&D has a role to play as part of knowledge and innovation systems, how should the research agenda be established in the field of agriculture? How should such research be funded, particularly in the light of budget cuts driven by austerity measures?

Education and skills

(9)  What is the current state of education and skills provision relating to agricultural research, the agricultural sector and advisory services? How might such provision be enhanced?

Knowledge transfer

(10)How should research be translated into technology transfer and advice to practitioners? What are the respective roles, for example, of professional advisers, professional organisations, peer groups and the public sector?

EU policies

(11)What are the roles of the Common Agricultural Policy and EU research policy, including the Framework Programme for Research and Development, in helping to resolve the issues highlighted above? Where public intervention is desirable, what is best done at a lower level of governance?

The deadline for written evidence is 24 September 2010.

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