Precision Agriculture and the Future of Farming in Europe

Scenario's for the future of agriculture in Europe - In December 2016, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a scientific foresight study on ‘Precision Agriculture and the Future of farming in Europe’. The study identifies four different scenarios for the future of agriculture in Europe: 

  • Economic optimism: Precision agriculture and other technologies are implemented for the sole purpose of efficiency and full automation;
  • Global sustainable development: Precision agriculture is utilised to reach sustainability goals and becomes strongly regulated. It can be found in vertical farms and will be used for the conservation of nature and biodiversity;
  • Regional competition: Precision agriculture stimulate technologies’ regional growth and production. The focus will be on regional self-sufficiency;
  • Regional sustainable development: Precision agriculture is predominantly used for food security and the achievement of regional sustainability goals.

The above-mentioned scenarios give rise to several concerns when it comes to European policy and precision agriculture:

  • The future of precision agriculture is (probably) going to be dominated by data exchange:
  • Data owners will be in a central position of power, create the added-value and earn a major share of income generated in agriculture, thus requiring targeted policies and legislation;
  • The scalability of precision agriculture: New technologies are not necessarily large-scale (full automation), but could also consist of IoT technologies and data-analyses;
  • Europe becoming dependent on non-European production of parts for precision agriculture: There is a risk that European farming becomes dependent on non-European technologies and machinery for precision agriculture.

A growing digital divide

The uptake of precision agriculture may lead to a rapidly growing digital divide between small and big farmers. Smaller farmers might lack the investment capital or knowledge to acquire precision agriculture technologies.

The study draws several conclusions which can be summarised as follows:

  • Precision agriculture can make a significant contribution to food security and safety;
  • Precision agriculture can promote more sustainable ways of farming;
  • Precision agriculture requires the learning of new skills;
  • Precision agriculture will trigger wider societal changes.

Download the full EPRS report (PDF)

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