Stepping up to the challenge of knowledge-intensive farming and forestry

Times are changing. Faced with many new challenges, but also new opportunities, farmers and foresters require new ideas and approaches, new skills and information, and new solutions

With increasing pressure upon natural resources and the emerging impact of climate change, farmers and foresters must ensure a steady supply of food and other biomaterials whilst managing previously unknown risks and uncertainties. There is an urgent need to accelerate our transition to more sustainable land-based enterprises that are not only competitive, environmentally friendly and fair, but also resilient to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But, an important question remains, how can farmers and foresters get better access to the ideas, knowledge and innovative new methods they need to make use of?

The future of farming and forestry is KNOWLEDGE INTENSIVE

Farmers, foresters and other rural businesses are being asked to step up their efforts to fulfil the objectives of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and to help achieve the ambitious EU policy agendas of the Farm to Fork Strategy and the European Green Deal.

Research, innovation and knowledge sharing are key enablers for achieving the objectives of the post-2020 CAP. In addition to nine specific objectives linked to common EU goals for social, environmental, and economic sustainability, there is also a newly introduced ‘cross-cutting objective’ that calls for the intensification of knowledge exchange and the speeding-up of innovation in order to help farmers make the transition to towards more productive, profitable and sustainable production systems.

In parallel to this, the European Commission has significantly increased its commitment to research and innovation (R&I) in agriculture. Around €10 billion has been set aside in the Horizon Europe programme for a diverse range of projects relating to food, farming, rural development and the bio-economy that will bring together researchers, farmers, foresters, advisors and other rural actors to develop common understanding of the real needs in food, farming and forestry and to co-create innovative new solutions to meet them.

Greater efforts are needed to improve knowledge exchange between science and practice

A substantial gap exists between the good science being undertaken in EU-funded R&I projects and the uptake and application of this science in practice. Too many project results are remaining unused. Too many innovative solutions for practical day-to-day problems are not reaching the people who could use them!

The results from EU-funded R&I projects must be made more accessible and must be more fully and effectively shared with the farmers, foresters, advisors and other rural businesses making decisions about the practical day-to-day management of food, farming and forestry businesses across Europe.

This is the challenge that the EUREKA project has been working on for the last 2 years, building upon the previous work of the EURAKNOS project.

A total of 21 partners from 15 countries have been collaborating to develop and test an online agricultural knowledge platform designed specifically for collecting and sharing the many different types of outputs produced by EU R&I projects that are intended for practical, rather than scientific, use (see fact box below). These materials are a rich and abundant source of knowledge produced in many different formats including factsheets, practice abstracts, policy briefs, technical reports, presentations, videos, podcasts and infographics. Many of these outputs can be used directly by farmers and foresters, while others will need some interpretation and application by advisors, trainers and other educators, innovation brokers and others active in the knowledge and innovation systems that are associated with farming and forestry, and which are underpinning the objectives of the new CAP.

EU FarmBook version 1.0 – a working platform to be released and expanded

A prototype of the first EU-level “online knowledge reservoir” of its kind was developed in the previous EU Horizon 2020 project EURAKNOS, which focused on Thematic Networks. During the last two years, the follow-up project EUREKA has refined and evolved the platform into a first working version of the so-called EU FarmBook. The EU FarmBook “version 1.0” is to be released in January 2022 for testing with a broad range of users across the EU.

A few similar platforms already exist at national level, and it is intended that the EU FarmBook will eventually connect with them, as well as others known to be under development.

The EU FarmBook is an ambitious concept and the time is now approaching to TEST it!

There are three important steps in the testing process:

  • Firstly, to make agreements with the representatives of both completed and still-running Horizon 2020 projects (especially the so-called multi-actor projects) to collect relevant project results for uploading into the EU FarmBook test version:
  • Secondly, to test the process of annotating individual project results (so-called ‘knowledge objects’) with relevant descriptors (‘meta-data’) so that they can be easily searched for and found by users of the platform. See here if you want to learn more about this;
  • Thirdly, to invite a representative group of potential end-users to test the ‘look and feel’ of the EU FarmBook and how well it functions to provide them with the information they are looking for.

“We are now at a critically important stage of the EUREKA project. In the coming months we will test both the back- and front-ends of the EU FarmBook to assess their functionality and user-friendliness. We are confident that the platform will perform superbly, but it’s possible there will be a few bugs and we must be careful to proceed step-by-step before handing over the platform to the European Commission”, explained Project Co-ordinator, Dr. Pieter Spanoghe, from Ghent University.

“We are very excited by the long-term potential of the EU FarmBook, and we are sure that the features built into the platform will be a great success. However, it is important that first time users of the EU FarmBook understand that it is still an early version in need of wider testing. Above all we must ensure they come with realistic expectations, experience the platform as positively as possible and become long-term return users”.

As the EUREKA project draws to a close at the end of March 2022, preparations are already being made for its follow-up. A funding call for a major project to finalise development of the EU FarmBook and for promoting its widespread use was launched in June 2021 and is due to start in 2022.

According to Inge Van Oost at DG AGRI of the European Commission, “EURAKNOS and EUREKA have built a solid foundation for the future EU knowledge reservoir that will make an increasing volume of practice-orientated knowledge more easily accessible, interactive and accessible! The essential next steps will be to connect with the national and regional Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems – the AKISs - that are being strengthened by the Member States in their CAP Strategic Plans for 2023-2027”.

“For example, we see great potential for the EU FarmBook to serve the needs of farm advisors’ back-offices for innovation support, as well as the innovation strand of the new CAP networks. And of course, with the multi-lingual smart search functions built into the platform we hope to see more and more farmers and foresters visiting the EU FarmBook for answering their practical day-to-day questions”.

The EU FarmBook does not stand alone, its practical value will only grow and continue to be enriched with input from public and private partners in EU-funded research and innovation projects, ranging from large-scale EU-level multi-actor projects to more local EIP-AGRI Operational Groups.

If you want to get involved with making the EU FarmBook a reality, please do not hesitate to contact the EUREKA project at:

TylerArbour: tyler.arbour@ugent.be
Maxime Marois: Maxime.Marois@idele.fr

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