Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents



This paper sets out how the rate of innovation, adoption and exploitation of research can be increased in European Agriculture. The information is based on the experience of a partnership project in the UK, the InCrops Project. This project, backed by the public sector, provides a link between businesses and research with the specific objective of increasing the uptake of innovation within the industry.

The Development and Exploitation of Knowledge

The exploitation of research and the implementation of technology are essential for European agriculture to fully develop its commercial potential. This will only be achieved if the existing gap between research and implementation is effectively bridged.

There is a need for:

·  Exchange of innovation and related research across the EU agricultural industry

·  Increased use by businesses of the existing research base

·  Effective and efficient knowledge transfer to businesses

·  Stimulation of entrepreneurial activity

·  Exploitation of research for commercial gain

·  Faster and more widespread take up of 'proven' innovation within agriculture

Practical Considerations

Agricultural businesses are primarily SMEs. Many will engage at the local or national level, yet much of the research they need to access is located in other countries.

Pooling of research and technology is needed across the EU with the accumulated knowledge being channelled to the local level.

An effective innovation programme must ensure that:

·  Those delivering technology exchange work collaboratively across Europe

·  Whilst ensuring local access to and delivery of this knowledge base.

To ensure that the innovation communicated to businesses draws on all available new technology it is essential that local and national innovation support networks are active participants in international networks.

However, both the diversity of agriculture across the EU and different national traditions and approaches to farm business extension or innovation services, means that any innovation network must adopt the principle of subsidiarity. It must not be too prescriptive in how innovation support is provided locally.

Implementation of Research—EU Innovation Union

Implementation is necessary to achieve competitive advantage or economic gain. It is also required to address societal challenges, such as population growth or climate change.

Innovation in the agricultural sector is not a standalone technical/scientific process. Innovations in management and marketing are also required to deliver better supply chains, the development of new products, and improvements in workforce productivity through behaviour change.

Increasing the rate at which the wealth of European research impacts on productivity and sustainability will benefit both the agricultural industry and the European economy. This is backed up by the development of the EU Innovation Union. There is, within this programme, a proposal for European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) in a range of sectors. A pilot in Active and Healthy Ageing is underway and a proposal for an EIP on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability is planned for 2012.

This paper sets out how the EIP approach could be applied in agriculture through a partnership network between R&D, business and government across the EU.

The Agricultural Dilemma

Agriculture faces many challenges including the need to produce more whilst addressing sustainability and resource constraint issues. Research and technology can provide answers to many of the most pressing issues facing agriculture but, across Europe, technology translation has been weak. There is limited sharing of expertise and this severely restricts the exploitation of research findings.

InCrops has found that by creating a partnership between business end users, research centres and knowledge exchange experts, then greater commercialisation and exploitation of research is achieved.

However, it only works if an innovation programme meets the differing needs of individual businesses, research centres or agencies. A 'one size fits all' is not appropriate. It requires a number of focused partnerships, working together on specific areas, within a wider innovation network.

Developing Successful Innovation Partnerships

InCrops argues strongly that in developing European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) in Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability, the following principles should be adopted:

·  Resources focused on facilitating the implementation of new ideas by businesses—so exploiting the considerable investment already made in fundamental science

·  Allowing flexibility with a range of approaches to innovation support including:

  knowledge exchange in thematic areas, such as climate change

  innovation clusters in emerging technologies, such as algae

  industry partnership with academic and research centres to address specific business needs;

·  Providing pro-active support to promote collaboration between business and research, recognising that many innovations take time to implement and allow each project to meet the specific needs of those who need to collaborate.

Learn From Success

Many current farm advisory services are patchy, focused on regulatory compliance and have poor links to research. This is not true everywhere and the EU should learn from projects which are delivering more integrated innovation support, such as the InCrops project, Fraunhofer centres, UR Wageningen in the Netherlands, SAC, and seek to replicate the lessons from them.

These successful partnerships all unite academic, research and business engagement functions. These projects benefit from 4 key factors which are fundamental and should be replicated in proposals for an EIP in Agriculture. They are:

(1)  Engagement of businesses in helping to determine their focus and mission

(2)  Bringing together of multiple partners to provide integrated support

(3)  Employment of specialist staff—skilled in knowledge exchange and with understanding of businesses

(4)  Supported by multi-annual funding.

Summary of InCrops Innovation Model

InCrops proposes that the model for innovation should be based on the parallel delivery of two themes:

Theme 1—EU networking and transnational delivery, which includes:

·  Promoting a partnership between business, research and government to define and prioritise investment in agricultural innovation at the EU level

·  Facilitation of a pathfinder group of agricultural businesses working with the EU knowledge sector to develop new areas of innovation or systems of knowledge exchange

·  A knowledge partnership between local and/or national innovation support bodies across the EU to share expertise based on events, exchanges and an ICT platform

·  A programme of multi-country pilot projects to develop innovation programmes in new, key areas of European interest.

Theme 2—Innovation delivery to the agricultural sector

As noted above, most businesses will engage with the knowledge sector via local support systems. Theme 2 is therefore focused on utilising the innovation expertise available across Europe to ensure that local delivery of support, whilst respecting local traditions and systems, draws on the expertise in all member states.

Theme 2 would thus provide resources to strengthen innovation support available locally or nationally, with those accessing these resources automatically being linked into the trans-national partnership developed under theme 1.

EU Commitment

Finally the paper welcomes the commitment by the EU, in the proposals for a European Innovation Partnerships (EIP), to make these long term programmes with clear links to wider economic and innovation policy.

In agriculture it is essential that an EIP is also clearly linked to the strategic priorities in the CAP as well as the green economy. It is important that strategic input from businesses, researchers, governments and the EU is provided to guide the focus and integration of the programme

The commitment to agricultural innovation will require substantial funding, if the magnitude of the challenges facing the industry and wider society in terms of access of food, feed, renewable materials and environmental services are to be delivered.

The challenges facing the industry are long term in nature and, given that innovation takes time to commercialise or become embedded, the funding commitment to support must also be long term.

However, if businesses can see clear benefits to securing innovation support, they will also contribute towards the costs and fund the subsequent investments in new technology, facilities and products.


Developing a European Innovation Network for Agriculture built on a Partnership between Knowledge, Business and Government Partners

The exploitation of research and the implementation of technology and innovation are essential for European agriculture to fully develop its commercial potential.

There is a gap between research and implementation that needs bridging if innovation is to be fully developed.

The challenge is to achieve:

·  Exchange of innovation and related research across the EU agricultural industry;

·  Increased use by businesses of the existing research base;

·  Effective and efficient knowledge transfer to businesses;

·  Stimulation of entrepreneurial activity;

·  Exploitation of research for commercial gain;

·  Faster and more widespread take up of 'proven' innovation within agriculture.

Achieving this will benefit both the agricultural industry and the European economy.

Addressing the need to increase the commercialisation of innovation at a European level is complex. Many of the businesses in the sector will be comfortable with engaging at the local or national level, whilst much of the research they need to access is located in other countries.

An effective innovation programme must ensure that:

·  Those delivering technology exchange are working collaboratively across Europe;

·  Whilst ensuring local access to and delivery of this knowledge base.

Across Europe the challenges of responding to the economic crisis has partly focused on the need to increase the rate at which European research impacts on productivity and sustainability. This has led to the development of the Innovation Union, and within this programme a proposal for European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) in a range of sectors, with a pilot in Active and Healthy Ageing, and a subsequent proposal for an EIP on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability in 2012.

Whilst the details of the EIP in Agriculture are still to be finalised, InCrops hopes that its own experience can help to inform a model which could be delivered effectively based on networking business, research and government in a focused partnership to increase the commercialisation of research findings.


This model for discussion has been developed as part of an inquiry into Innovation in EU Agriculture led by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment sub-committee of the House of Lords in the UK Parliament[291]. InCrops presented its initial evidence to this inquiry in autumn 2010[292], and then appeared before the Committee[293]. This led to encouragement for the ideas discussed to be developed more fully—to create a more detailed submission to set out a model for how the EU could develop a Transnational Innovation Network for Agriculture focused on Knowledge Exchange.

InCrops Enterprise Hub is a business support and technology transfer company owned by University of East Anglia and based at the Norwich Research Park. Through the partnership with 13 academic organisations (leading UK and world class research organisations[294]), InCrops has access to expertise in plant biology, agronomy, food & feed, sustainable development and biotechnology. InCrops works closely with the Low Carbon Innovation Centre, a knowledge transfer hub encouraging, commercialising and investment in low carbon technologies across all industrial and societal sectors.

InCrops has EU and UK government grant funding (ERDF, EEDA and the University of East Anglia) to provide a knowledge transfer network for businesses. It provides support for entrepreneurs and companies developing sustainable supply chains, products and technologies based on the use of plant-based raw materials. It works with businesses in the automotive, construction, bioenergy, pharmaceuticals, functional food and packaging sectors amongst many others, to connect them to farming and agricultural supply chains which can help them access the raw materials they need. InCrops has a pipeline of commercially funded projects each of which is provided with the support needed to develop and launch new products.

InCrops partners, and the project itself, already have substantial experience in international collaborations to deliver innovation both in Europe as well as further afield. Projects such as the China-UK Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network (SAIN) are involved in the translation of research between countries and have been addressing complex issues such as improved nutrient management to reduce carbon emissions.

The Case for a Business Driven Innovation Network for European Agriculture

In 2011 the challenges which innovation must address continue to evolve, with many of the issues for farming and the industries it supplies being global in nature. Given the high and growing costs of developing appropriate responses the need for collaboration both within the EU and across the world is growing.

In setting out this case for a Pan European Innovation Network for Agriculture, InCrops is guided by a number of challenges which the sector needs to address, including:

·  Growing market demand—set to double by 2050[295] (for food, feed, fuel, renewable materials and eco-system services), but also in changes in the products required;

·  Global competitiveness for resources—resources becoming more expensive and constrained, requiring investment in technology to increase productivity within environmental constraints (sustainable intensification);

·  Climate change—innovative responses are needed to maintain productivity in some regions whilst potentially allowing other regions to become more productive;

·  Environmental and political imperatives—reducing dependence on oil by adopting biological systems which replace oil derived products.

The ability to deliver necessary improvements in agricultural productivity and sustainability requires increased investment in both research[296] and its translation to business[297].

Growth in European productivity has been falling, with current growth rates under 2% per annum against 4% in the 1970s. High income countries have been reducing the rate at which they increase agricultural research expenditure, with the average growth falling from 2.5% throughout the 1970s and '80s to 0.5% during the '90s[298].

Europe is now a net importer of food, with the trade deficit continuing to grow[299]. Farmers must use the latest science to deliver production efficiency but this requires the relevant science to be communicated to and exploited by industry.

As explained in more detail in appendix 1, this need for more translation of science into practice is hampered by:

·  A big fall in the resources available for technology translation to agriculture across Europe;

·  Inadequate co-ordination between member states;

·  Weak links to other sectors with which agriculture needs to work (such as IT and engineering);

·  The highly national and regional outlook and implementation of many areas of EU agricultural and rural development policy.

Developing a Successful Innovation Model

Assume nothing

Many complex constraints exist that limit the potential to achieve transnational European scale integration of innovation within agriculture. The first stage of any proposed model must be to:

·  Analyse the limitations to technology and knowledge exchange in general

·  And for agriculture in particular

·  Or establish fully that this has already been carried out

This constraints analysis would then form the basis for proposing specific, novel actions to address these constraints at both the European and Member state level.

Identifying and addressing these constraints is the essential first stage in creating an effective and practical innovation model that goes beyond the idealistic, to something that will work in operation and deliver the required benefits.


A scientifically rigorous analysis has not been carried out for this paper. The information given in this document is based on the experience of InCrops and their partners. For this reason the proposal for an Innovation Model is put forward as an example of what could be achieved: It is not a definitive model.

Features of a Successful Innovation Model

Successful innovation models require three key features:

·  Focused on promoting innovation by businesses;

·  Based on effective networks of support;

·  Supported as a strategic imperative in economic development.

Implementation by businesses: Without implementation there is no competitive advantage or economic gain. There is also failure to address societal challenges, such as population growth or climate change.

Innovation in the agricultural sector is not a standalone technical/scientific process. Innovations in management and marketing are also required to deliver better supply chains, the development of new products, and improvements in workforce productivity through behaviour change.

Developing an integrated research, innovation and implementation policy

The following areas need covering:

(1)  Thematic areas and/or societal challenges (e.g. climate change)—these need identifying and prioritising with business input.

(2)  Innovation clusters—these need developing or identifying (some already exist) in priority areas (e.g. Algae, the role of agriculture in Carbon management). Co-ordinated innovation partnerships will enable the exchange of information, collaboration and the reduction of duplication. These innovation clusters should work in areas identified as having long term and substantial business potential.

(3)  Industry-academia partnerships—to support efficient knowledge exchange and collaboration between businesses and science. Knowledge transfer needs to be delivered with integrated business support to ensure both the development of commercial opportunities arising from research and the wider scale implementation of proven innovation and technological advances.

For businesses to effectively implement innovations they require:

·  Tailor made and flexible support—programmes need to be able to respond individually to each business 'customer' in a way which meets their needs;

·  Time—most innovations take time to commercialise, this requirement must be recognised when developing support programmes for companies;

·  Proactive support—the number of innovations delivered is increased by proactive identification of potential partners and by creating the conditions for them to meet, exchange ideas and collaborate.

In terms of operation and management, innovation networks require:

·  Business leadership—innovation programmes need active business engagement in their design and management to ensure they stay focused on business needs;

·  Delivery partnerships—most companies need a range of support which is unlikely to be available from a single advisor or research partner. A key role for innovation networks is to provide a way for businesses to access advice from a range of sources across the public and private sectors;

·  Specialist staff—knowledge exchange and technology translation require staff with the specialist skills to work with both research and commercial partners;

·  Multi-annual funding—innovation and the systems to support it take time to develop and mature, short term funding withdrawn just as systems begin to operate effectively is inadequate[300].

The importance of networks and partnership

Although some businesses (SMEs) will engage directly with transnational projects, the majority need involvement at the local or national level.

Local and national innovation support networks need to be active participants in international networks to ensure that the innovation communicated to businesses draws on all available new technology.

Linking to existing centres

The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Germany is an excellent example of innovation and translational infrastructure that bridges the gap between research and technology. The Fraunhofer Institute model is based on one third of their budget from core funding, a further third through competitive bids to regional, national or EU public research projects and the final third from research contracts with the private sector. The focus is usually on a specific sector or technology rather than across a wide range of sectoral fields.

The European Agricultural Innovation Network should look to replicate certain aspects of this model. In particular, the focus on technology translation supported by core public funding, backed up by publicly funded competitive bids and commercial funding. This provides the mix of stability, competitiveness and business focus needed to drive success.

Innovation as a strategic objective

As explained in appendix 2, innovation programmes must pay close attention to the broader strategic context in which they operate, and ensure that they deliver the objectives agreed for the sectors they serve. This will ensure that the innovation programme gains from synergies with other programmes at the local, national or EU level and avoids problems of duplication or poor alignment with other support.

An example of a Model for a Trans-national Innovation Network for European Agriculture

InCrops sets out below how an EU Innovation Network for Agriculture could increase the rate of innovation in agriculture (but refer to the caveat on p.77).


To establish a transnational European Innovation Network for European Agriculture to:

·  Exchange innovation and related research across the EU agricultural industry;

·  Increase the use by businesses of the existing research base;

·  Promote effective and efficient knowledge transfer to businesses;

·  Stimulate entrepreneurial activity;

·  Exploit research for commercial gain;

·  Develop faster and more widespread take up of 'proven' innovation in agriculture.


The unique qualities of the InCrops Enterprise Partnership model that are relevant when developing a European wide innovation network, are the ability to:

·  Enable collaboration;

·  Lever relevant research;

·  Refocus research effort;

·  Work bottom up with business to identify needs and respond to them.

It will be necessary to disseminate information as widely as possible across the EU so increasing the rate at which innovation is exploited. This will require making demands on the pan-european research base by:

·  Driving out costly duplication between centres;

·  Encouraging collaborative approaches;

·  Reinforcing the need for socially or business relevant research.

The Network should encourage two way knowledge exchange partnerships, whereby businesses gain insights into new science or technology which can benefit their businesses, but also have the opportunity to promote their needs and priorities to research teams and those working on technology translation.

The Network's detailed operational focus should be guided by business input, but in principle should cover the full range of agriculture, land management and agricultural products. This includes knowledge exchange to facilitate the economic competitiveness of, and improvements in the sustainability of:

·  Agricultural, horticultural and forestry production;

·  The supply chains which utilise the products of agriculture, horticulture and forestry to produce food, feed, fuel and raw materials for industry;

·  Waste and energy management in the agricultural supply chain;

·  Land, soil and water management.

Given the diversity of agriculture across the EU, the network should allow for different groups of businesses and knowledge partners to focus on individual project areas that can also encompass local needs. These innovation clusters will be based on 'communities of interest'. They would fall into three main types of network:

(1)  European wide exploitation networks—central to this would be a Carbon and Agriculture group. This would specifically address the role of European agriculture in carbon sequestration, energy provision and in developing income streams from carbon credits. Other areas may include areas such as an EU wide Innovation Network for Algal exploitation, grouping together commercial and research interests in an emerging industry;

(2)  Product specific exploitation networks—such as around Olive production in the Mediterranean states or the potential to develop and market sea buckthorn across the EU.

(3)  Location specific exploitation networks—to cover areas such as the development of new methods of sustainable land management for mountain farming systems in the Alps or drought tolerant methods of production in Mediterranean states.

These potential foci are closely aligned with the EU Commissions proposals to establish European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) in a number of sectors with a pilot in Active and Healthy Ageing, and a subsequent proposal for an EIP on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability in 2012.

The proposed Innovation Network could also share some of the priorities in the 'EU Public Private Partnerships in Research'[301], launched in 2009 as part of the investment in the European Economic Recovery Plan. This focused on three sectors: Factories of the Future; Energy Efficient Building; Green Cars, and provided a multi-annual budget to stimulate research, promote a strong business role in implementing research, linked to a focus on the exploitation of research to support innovation in SMEs.

Strategic Management of the Innovation Network

The Network should be managed strategically to ensure that the uptake of innovation across the EU is maximised by aligning it clearly with industrial priorities, existing research and technology programmes and other publicly funded support services.

To achieve this, the network should be overseen by a board comprising representatives of the agricultural supply chain, the EU research and technology community and the European Union.

The programme board would be responsible for:

·  The strategic direction of the network;

·  Priority areas for work;

·  Integration with EU and member state programmes;

·  Allocation of the network budget.

Advisory groups would need to work closely with the board, suggestions are:

(1)  Pathfinder group of farm businesses—comprised of 100 progressive farm businesses drawn from across the EU. These would identify innovation needs and trial new approaches to innovation dissemination. This group of 'early adopter' businesses would be used to challenge the knowledge base to focus on new areas of need, as well as new ways to maximise the effectiveness of knowledge exchange programmes at the local level.

(2)  Knowledge base group—comprising of a representative of the research and knowledge transfer community in each member state. This group would meet to develop collaboration between national innovation support systems, share best practice in facilitating innovation, and provide advice on how EU and national resources can be aligned to increase the uptake of innovation;

(3)  Member states group—comprising of a representative of each member state government to develop collaboration between national innovation support systems. Also, to provide a link to the agricultural department or ministry in the member states and thus to the Agricultural Council, so ensuring that innovation is debated as a strategic priority by EU agriculture ministers.

Operation of the Innovation Network

The proposed network would have two main strands of activity:

·  Theme 1—EU network and transnational delivery

·  Theme 2—Innovation delivery to the agricultural sector

Each theme would have a budget, and targets to deliver in terms of numbers of business and knowledge partners engaged, new product development, new business creation and new processes adopted.

Theme 1—EU network and transnational delivery

Focused on maximising the dissemination of innovation across the EU. It would be delivered primarily through 4 networking activities and a programme of pilot projects.

The networking activities would be:

·  Management of the EU Innovation Network for Agriculture (as set out above) to set priorities and agree the focus for the innovation network;

·  Developing a strategic transnational position on facilitating innovation in agriculture and promoting this with member state governments, research bodies and business support organisations. This can tackle 'difficult' issues such as GM;

·  Facilitation of knowledge exchange activities for the 'pathfinder' group of farm businesses (drawn from across the EU) to promote the sharing of innovation across member states from the 'bottom up', and to help technology translation services understand the needs of progressive farming businesses;

·  A programme of workshops and exchanges to help knowledge partners share innovation across the EU, supported by an ICT platform for all farm innovation support organisations in the EU. The ICT platform would be accessible to farm businesses across the EU, but would primarily be targeted at increasing the rate of dissemination amongst those working to support innovation in agriculture.

Pilot projects would be supported to:

·  Trial new approaches to knowledge exchange between member states, or within particular sectors or thematic areas;

·  Develop EU collaboration in the exploitation of new or emerging technologies.

All pilot projects supported would have to include:

·  Partners from at least 3 member states;

·  Businesses (from agriculture, or its associated input or supply chains);

·  Knowledge based partners;

·  A commitment to disseminate the findings of the project across the whole EU via the ICT platform established for the Innovation Network;

·  A demonstration that they could be 'mainstreamed' or sustained beyond the period of grant funding.

Theme 2—Innovation delivery to the agricultural sector

This would support the roll out of local innovation networks at the member state or more local level.

The roll out phase of innovation, when a successful innovation is applied on a wider basis, requires:

·  A positive attitude to change in the target businesses;

·  An effective dissemination process and adequate funding.

The innovations promoted must also be capable of adoption by most target businesses without major disruption, unless there are clear economic benefits which justify more major change.

Given the diversity of agriculture across the EU and different national traditions and approaches to farm business extension or innovation services, the Innovation Network should adopt the principle of subsidiarity and not attempt to be too prescriptive in how innovation support is provided locally.

To avoid duplication the national delivery of the innovation network would be aligned with existing farm extension, research and technology programmes.

To avoid displacing existing resources at the national level, each national programme would have to make a formal application for funds, which clearly explained how the support of the EU programme would complement rather than replace existing innovation services.

However, InCrops experience suggests that there are key factors which affect the success of innovation programmes:

·  Flexibility in the support offered;

·  Proactive support;

·  Broad delivery partnerships—to help businesses access the full range of support required and the people with specialist skills in knowledge exchange and technology translation.

All national programmes would be required to explain how they would deliver these features in their local programmes.

At the national level, trade and professional bodies often have extensive and efficient mechanisms to communicate with farmers, and in conjunction with the trade press can be very influential in helping businesses access support. Innovation support at the local level will therefore be encouraged to work with these established intermediaries.


Given the magnitude and critical nature of the challenge facing the agricultural sector, the scale of the sector across Europe and the central role which innovation will play in helping the sector meet future challenges, a budget comparable to that allocated to similar sector based innovation programmes is needed.

Ultimately most innovation uptake will be funded by business. Government can, however, help to increase innovation by targeted grants or incentives which 'pump prime' and encourage businesses to explore the potential of investing in new technology.

Grants which support the provision of innovation advice at low or no cost (e.g. to research or technology exchange organisations) can be very cost effective at increasing the number of innovations commercialised.

Funding should be clearly focused on helping business access innovation, and not on the investments which they need to make in new pieces of equipment, buildings or products.


The exploitation of research and the implementation of technology and innovation are essential for European agriculture to fully develop its commercial potential.

There is a growing need for innovation in EU agriculture to enable the industry to increase its productivity and to deliver a range of products and services. These include new products, more food and feed, raw materials for industry, ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and the ever more efficient use of resources.

The proposals set out for an Innovation Network for European Agriculture are ambitious in their scope and aspirations. However, with sufficient support, financially and through a supportive policy context, a network could have a major impact on EU agriculture.

Many current farm advisory services are patchy, focused on regulatory compliance and have poor links to research. This is not true everywhere, and the EU should learn from projects, programmes and centres which are delivering more integrated support e.g. the InCrops project, Fraunhofer centres in Germany, SAC in Scotland, UR Wageningen in the Netherlands, and seek to replicate the lessons from them.

This would not only benefit agriculture, but also has the potential to contribute to the EU growth agenda and the rebalancing of the economy following the global downturn. It will, however, require a substantial increase in the rate at which Europe's strong science base is applied in the field through new investment.

InCrops believes that an EU response to agricultural innovation must be:

(1)  Led by businesses working with the knowledge base and member states to define, manage and deliver a flexible programme of innovation support

(2)  Focused on knowledge exchange which allows farmers and supply chain businesses to learn from the knowledge base, but also increases the input of industry into defining the priorities and focus of research centres

(3)  Supported by staff with expert knowledge transfer skills who can bridge the gap between research and commercial partners

(4)  Focused on partnership solutions to help business access the full breadth of the knowledge base which can support them

(5)  Be facilitated with clear incentives and a supportive policy which champions the role of innovation as a strategic imperative in driving agricultural competitiveness

To deliver a successful programme it must build on the innovation work in EU other sectors, and deliver significant investment at the EU and national level. The programme must also build collaboration across Europe between knowledge partners, but recognise that many businesses will engage in the network via national and local systems.

Appendix 1—Constraints on Agricultural Innovation across Europe

The major obstacle to agricultural innovation results from weak linkages between research, technology development and farming businesses. Businesses, particularly the SMEs which dominate agriculture, find it hard to identify the full range of innovations which may benefit them and usually have a poor knowledge of the work conducted in research centres.

A 2008 report from the European Commission Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR)[302] summarises the problems currently inherent in the delivery of agricultural knowledge systems (AKS) as:

Over the years, as they have been to an increasing extent privatised, there has been a progressive dis-investment by public authorities in AKST. Many countries among the EU25 have dismantled to a considerable extent the basis for dis-interested science and public good training and advisory services, as well as the mechanisms that supported longer term public good AKST and applied and adaptive research.

This report also argued that:

AKST infrastructures at European level are not organised at the moment to provide adequate capacity (infrastructures and expertise) to integrate agricultural, health, food, climate change and environmental knowledge, science and technologies, and there is a lack of instruments and trained personnel to assess in an integrated way the relevance and the urgency of issues such as climate change impacts and mitigation potential in food and farming.

The report concludes by arguing that a renewed European wide approach to agricultural knowledge systems is needed which has a clear strategic focus, includes users and commercial partners in planning delivery, and links to existing local administrations. It also recommends that these systems must focus on learning processes, information exchange, network building and knowledge hybridisation.

The lack of co-ordination between national agricultural knowledge systems is a significant weakness for Europe and means that the potential of its investment in World class research is not being optimised. Currently the only area of farm extension where the EU takes an active role, the Farm Advisory Services[303], only focuses on cross compliance and not knowledge exchange to drive competitiveness.

Current provision of agricultural extension across Europe is very mixed, with the 2009 (ADE et al) review showing that provision ranges from: evolving and not yet formalised (e.g. Italy); to publicly driven systems with private sector input (e.g. Ireland); devolution to chambers of agriculture (e.g. Austria); private systems (e.g. Netherlands) and mixed systems (e.g. UK). It is critical that a European Innovation Network for agriculture, both recognises the existing Farm advisory systems in members states, and utilises this existing network wherever possible.

However, to drive competitiveness it is also essential that farmers have access to the latest research in Universities, research centres and the growing number of Technology Innovation Centres. In many EU countries the current farm advisory service is not well connected to these systems. There are some countries in which links are stronger, e.g. UR Wageningen in the Netherlands, SAC in Scotland and InCrops in England where research and university centres are intimately engaged in business outreach and these should be used as a model to develop a European wide approach to innovation support.

Appendix 2

Innovation in EU Agriculture as a Strategic Objective

Responding to the challenges set out above cannot be achieved by only directing more resources at knowledge transfer programmes for farmers at the EU, national or local level.

To be successful a European Agricultural Innovation Network must be supported as a strategic objective and integrated with other work undertaken by the EU or member states. It is essential to align it with:

·  The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)—the forthcoming reform of the CAP should be used to assist innovation in agriculture, through encouraging competitiveness and continuing the move to a market focused policy. Pillar 2 could more explicitly support innovation through a stronger focus on knowledge transfer, skills and support for innovative businesses and new product development (Axis 1) or new approaches to sustainable land management (Axis 2) (Lyon 2010).

·  Growth policy—the EU has been working to stimulate economic growth, notably under the Lisbon Treaty. This work has been given added impetus since 2008 through the European Economic Recovery Plan, and recently in Europe 2020: a strategy for European Union Growth[304]. Given the growth in global demand for agricultural products it is essential that the economic potential of the sector is used to contribute to the EU's ambitions in relation to sustainable economic growth.

·  EU Sustainability Policy—the EU has taken the lead on many environmental issues, and green growth now features as a key theme in EU growth policy. As a sector agriculture has a large environmental impact[305], but also has the potential to help the EU respond positively to challenges including climate change, resource depletion and waste reduction. Innovation support for agriculture should link to EU and national programmes on the environment, green growth and sustainability.

·  EU research policy and the Framework Programmes—innovation programmes must build on the investment made in research collaboration under the Framework Programmes. Agricultural innovation should not be separate from other research areas, because many of the most important innovations will occur in areas where agriculture interacts with other businesses e.g. in the food sector, renewable materials, energy or resource industries. The agriculture sector also needs to utilise research in biotechnology, engineering, chemistry, informatics and robotics amongst others.

·  Existing member state agricultural knowledge systems—all EU countries to some extent support knowledge exchange in agriculture and farm advisory services with which it is critical to link.

The development of a European Agricultural Innovation Network should be linked to the EU's Strategic Innovation Agenda and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). EIT was established in 2008 to drive EU competitiveness through stimulating innovation[306]. It has currently identified three Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs): Information and Communication Society; Sustainable Energy; Climate Change. Each KIC is focused on uniting the 'knowledge triangle' of higher education, research and business innovation, and includes partners from across Europe over a 7-15 year time horizon. Whereas the EIT is concerned with building a strategic innovation agenda, the operational responsibility to drive innovation is contracted to the KIC.

In developing the Innovation Network for Agriculture links to the EIT and existing KICs should be explored, both to learn from their experience and to identify areas for collaboration.

End Note

This proposal was developed in conjunction with Collison & Associates, an agricultural consultancy, which supported the development of the InCrops project and which has worked with the InCrops partnership since launch. Its principals have managed horticultural and farming businesses and have over 20 years experience in agricultural education and extension. They specialise in promoting the potential of the agri-food sector and the role of knowledge exchange in meeting the challenges facing the industry.

291   House of Lords (2010), Inquiry on Innovation in EU Agriculture, EU Sub Committee D-Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Back

292   InCrops Enterprise Hub (2010), Response to the Call for Evidence from the House of Lords Inquiry into Innovation in EU Agriculture Back

293   Dr John French, Ms Marie Francis OBE (3rd November 2010), Unrevised transcript of evidence taken before the Select Committee on the European Union: Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment (Sub-committee D) Inquiry on Innovation in EU Agriculture Back

294   The InCrops partnership includes: Institute of Food Research (IFR), John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich Research Park, Rothamsted Research, Buildings Research Establishment (BRE), National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), University of Essex, University of Cambridge Department of Plant Sciences, Renewables East, Easton College, Forestry Commission, University of East Anglia (UEA) School of Biological Sciences and the Low Carbon Innovation Centre at the UEA. Back

295   Thompson Prof Robert L (2008), conference paper at Growing Our Future Food-Supply is Too Important to Leave to Chance, Iowa State University Back

296   Professor Sir John Beddington (2011), Foresight: The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Executive Summary, the Government Office for Science, London. Back

297   Royal Society (2009), Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture Back

298   OECD-FAO (2009), Agricultural Outlook 2009-2018 Back

299   George Lyon MEP (rapporteur) (2010), Draft Report on the Future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013, Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, European Parliament Back

300   Dr Hermann Hauser (2009), The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK-a report for Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills Back

301   European Commission (2009), Public Private Partnerships in Research Back

302   Brunori G, Jiggins J (rapporteur), Gallardo R, Schmidt O (2008), EU Commission Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR): 2nd Foresight Exercise-New Challenges for Agricultural Research: climate change, food security, rural development, agricultural knowledge systems Back

303   ADE, ADAS, Agrotec, Evaluators.EU (2009), Evaluation of the Implementation of the Farm Advisory System, European Commission Back

304   European Commission (2010), Europe 2020: a strategy for European Union growth Back

305   EU (2006), Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO) Back

306   European Commission (2010), Strategic Innovation Agenda Back

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