Meat industry will benefit from digital, says Commission

By Liz Newmark

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture, Beef, Lamb, Packaging equipment & materials, Pork, Poultry, Processing and packaging Innovation, Processing equipment & plant design

Use of drones is becoming more commonplace in farming and agriculture
Use of drones is becoming more commonplace in farming and agriculture
The meat and livestock sector will see many advantages from robotics in the future, a European Commission official has said in a debate in Brussels on the digital future of farming. 

While Iman Boot, senior expert in the research & innovation unit of the directorate-general (DG) for agriculture and rural development, told GlobalMeatNews at the event that current developments were mainly in arable and dairy farming, he said: “Big changes are looming in pigs and poultry, for example using photos to see pigs move around the fields. The efficiency gains are there.​”

Today, robotics and automated farming machinery are increasingly used to feed cattle, EU farm body Copa-Cogeca’s secretary general Pekka Pesonen said. “This is no longer the stuff of fiction, but actually reality, from the livestock and dairy farmers using feeding and milking robots, to the cooperative that provides its associates with satellite and drone services.​”

Boot and Juha Heikkilä, head of robotics unit and artificial intelligence at the DG for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (CONNECT), said the EU actively supported robotics in agriculture through research funding. “We have launched a €30 million pilot programme,​” Heikkilä, said. “There should be a digitalisation hub in most areas in Europe.​”

There is a push to stimulate member states to use funds to invest heavily in this,​” Boot added.

Developed with farmers

However, Pesonen and other speakers warned that digitalisation could only improve productivity and maintain high-quality meat products if it was available to all farms, big and small, and ideally developed in closer cooperation with farmers. “Robotics and modern technology must become part of standard farm management,” said Pesonen.

In addition, he said, adequate broadband infrastructure with a reliable internet connection in rural areas was essential. CEMA president Richard Markwell agreed, saying: “There is no point pushing policy-makers to encourage the uptake of digitalisation if there is no access to the technology in the fields.​”

For Christoph Wigger, vice-president of sales and marketing for agricultural machinery giant John Deere, digital technologies enable meat farmers to collect “vast amounts of data​”. “The integration of different data streams can, quite simply, help a good farm to be even better.​”

Robots milking cows

Speakers further emphasised that digitalisation boosted the image of farming and attracted younger people to the meat and livestock industry. “We want to show that farming is modern and innovative,” said European Parliament member Peter Jahr (German Christian Democrat).

Finally, the seminar highlighted the ‘human’ benefits of digital farming. “Robotics are also effective on the social side,​” Heikkilä emphasised. “With robots milking the cows, for the first time, meat and dairy farmers can go on holiday!​”

According to Copa-Cogeca, the precision farming market was €2.3bn in 2014 and is expected to grow exponentially until 2020.

And an October 2015 Rabobank report said adopting robotics could add US$10bn (€8.9bn) per year to the value of field crop farming.

Related topics: Meat

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