Networking European farms to boost thematic knowledge exchanges and close the innovation gap
Demonstration and pilot farms have a major role to play in peer-to-peer learning in the broader farming community and for the effective transfer of knowledge on practical farming approaches. They are also a perfect instrument for disseminating possible innovative approaches resulting from scientific work. In addition, demonstration on “real” farms allows actors to meet, network and exchange knowledge beyond the classical knowledge transfer activities. Existing demonstration farms or experimental farms in specific thematic areas need to be connected and networked within Europe so that they can do more with less. The financial crisis and the launch of the EIP "Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability"(EIP-AGRI) raised awareness of the fact that farming infrastructure for demonstration purposes is costly and that thematic expertise should be shared within Europe. Beyond demonstration, thematic farm networks could develop increased interaction between science and practice, e.g. by for discussing research outputs, capturing research needs from practice, and providing a base to develop interactive innovation projects responding to the needs or opportunities of the farming community. Connecting existing open-farm initiatives at local level with a view to better coordination is expected to generate 'EU added value'.
Projects should set up network activities between geo-referenced demonstration farms dealing with specific themes across Europe with a view to exploiting their potential to improve delivery of practice-oriented knowledge and enhance interactive activities. Projects should cover a wide range of themes to be chosen according to where most added value for the EU is to be expected, and should contribute to a more sustainable and resilient agriculture and forestry.
The themes would cover both sectoral approaches (e.g. specific crops or livestock) and cross-sectoral themes, for instance specific farming systems, management of soils / nutrients / water / biodiversity / landscape / supply chains, resource efficiency, agro-ecology, precision farming, environmental/climate farming challenges, integrated pest management, animal welfare, effective, resilient and biosecure livestock systems, resilient cropping, energy production and management, speciality crops, biomass applications etc. As a minimum, 10 themes should be covered.
Projects should organise knowledge exchange activities and provide for connection with, and structured output from, exemplary demonstration farms that appeals to the average farmer and can be shared across Europe, e.g. farm visits, visual material (photos, video etc), easy-to-read texts, etc. The project activities should ensure synergy and complementarity with the EIP-AGRI, by thematically showcasing and cross-fertilising innovative practices/methods, and by delivering related audio-visual material and practice abstracts in the common EIP-AGRI format for practitioners. They should also seek to use and complement outputs from relevant European, national and regional projects or clusters around the chosen themes, e.g. Focus Groups, Operational Groups and Thematic networks.
The demonstration networks should develop linkages with advisors and their activities. Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach', involving a wide range of actors with practical experience, such as farmers/farmers' groups, advisors, innovation support services, researchers, Operational groups, EIP national/regional networks and enterprises, or other supply-chain actors where relevant. They should look for synergies with the inventory of demonstration farms and best demonstration approaches delivered under topic RUR-11-2016 and coordinate their strategy with the SCAR- AKIS Strategic Working Group. Activities and networks would extend for periods longer than four years where appropriately substantiated and organise synergies with activities and groups within the EIP-AGRI.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 7 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
This action should initiate structured networking activities between demonstration farms in a broad range of specific themes with a view to boosting innovation across Europe. The following impacts can be expected:
- increased flow of practical information on specific themes between relevant geographical areas in Europe, exploiting possible complementarities with existing projects and networks;
- a series of activities spreading thematic innovative knowledge, on which Operational Groups under rural development and the EU wide EIP-AGRI network can build;
- support for the implementation of the EIP-AGRI, through a structured organisation of the flow of information on the specific themes between the relevant geographical areas, resulting in an increased networking and learning among open farms and farmers in Europe;
- increased farmer-to-farmer learning and visibility of on-farm demonstrations on specific themes, helping to spread promising best practices and ensuring a timely uptake of research results by the farming community, and fuelling interactive innovation projects and approaches; and
- a greater user acceptance of the shared information contributing to a more competitive, sustainable and climate-smart agriculture and forestry.