In innovation, 21st century agriculture and the food industry have the key tool needed for more efficient and sustainable production. The European Union, under its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, focuses on activities in this area,
with the aim of, in the case of the food industry, applying new technologies that allow the sector to respond to market and consumer demands. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strikes a balance between producing more through using fewer resources and
not sacrificing food quality or security, by promoting environmental sustainablity and rural development. And it is working to achieve this in a globalised world that needs more food and is more and more sensitive to environmental concerns. Yes, I think we can produce more with less. Once we respect the environmental constrains that we have, I feel that we can use new knowledge, new innovation, new techniques, new technology in the future. The EU will be helping producers and the agri-food industry to achieve those objectives. EU agrifood powers, like Spain, are at the forefront of the sector’s research and innovation, which is a cross-cutting priority of the Community’s rural development policy. We believe that agricultural innovation is a strategic priority. It is a priority because our food industry has to respond to a more global, more competitive market and it needs to adapt from an environmental and sustainable point of view. We have to be able to produce more with fewer resources, so we have to respond to the needs of the agrifood sector. Knowledge transfer to farmers and the food industry is the ultimate goal that researchers and experts located in the various institutions across the EU work toward on a daily basis. Among the priorities of their studies and work are genomics and the development of information and
commmunication technologies. Genomics is about identifying genomes or molecular markers that allow farmers to benefit from things like drought-resistant crops or earlier-flowering varieties. That’s from the producer’s point of view. So how does the consumer benefit? This could be through the identification of probiotics. These would fight ulcers that could otherwise be caused by helicobacters. One of the examples to come out of their R&D is probiotics. Their development has enable the food industry to
provide higher quality produce, food security and health benefits. These are goals that are in line with the application of technological innovations in the food industry. Industry has always needed to create new products and new technologies, many of them patented, not just for their own use, but also because other countries may need them. The internationalisation factor is very important. A key element in this area of research is genome sequencing. In the case of citrus produce, knowing the genetic differences between varieties allows better sensory and cultivation characteristics to be promoted. In Valencia, they are working on a project to this end called Citrusgenn. This programme is based on the study of genetic differences. This involves studying the difference between germplasms, like the difference between edible and inedible varieties, in order to identify the characteristics that make a fruit edible. We study the DNA of each of these species. The DNA is extracted and we obtain genomes that can be studied over time. From that point, we crossbreed them and get seeds, everything is planted and grown in greenhouses. Any plants that show the right characteristics are put into experimental plots. Similar work is being done on rice, where researchers want to increase yields and produce grains of higher quality. In the case of olives, Spain and Italy supply the world and they receive constant EU support to innovate, improve and increase their competitivity and quality. The University of Córdoba is working on developing MECAOLIVAR: a project that is working toward designing new harvesting
machines and plant protection products, in order to optimise and economise processes and reduce their environmental impact. The olive harvester is an innovation because there isn’t another machine like it on the market. it’s more automated. It has a navigation system and a detection system that uses lasers, also a novelty. The use of a canvas to catch the fruit is less innovative, but it incorporates other certain novelties. The system incorporates various fans, as well as proximity sensors that not only detect the presence of a tree, but also how far away it is, all in real-time. This precision management is a very important innovation. The use of drones in agriculture is now widespread. In olive groves, they are fitted with sensors and used to test plants’ resistance
to water pressure, so irrigation can be optimised. Normally in Andalucia, we always run a deficit when it comes to irrigation, there is never much water. So what little we have has to be used right. If we can tell the farmer when is the best time to use that water, more efficiently, then all the better. That’s what we are looking to do when it comes to olive farming. Another technological development is near infrared spectroscopy (NIR), which provides a before and after picture of food quality and control. Using a small device, it is possible to analyse food instantaneously and in a non-destructive manner, either when it is produced or in shipments of raw materials. This technology has allowed us, after many years of research and development, to instantly analyse, in a fraction of a second, the content of a sample,
both in terms of quantitative and qualitative values. All these examples of research, development and innovation show how the coming together of the scientific community and the agrifood sector of the EU allows the improvement of farm competitivity, product internationalisation and traceability, as well as ensuring that EU production systems remain some of the most sustainable in the world.