First, the world population is growing at an astonishing rate, so we will need to produce more and more food. Second, we need to do more to protect our planet's climate and environment, therefore how we produce food needs to become more sustainable.
Promoting innovation in agrifood is how we will meet both these challenges. This week, I spoke with my colleague, EU Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas, at an event to mark World Food Day.
We are joining forces to devise a long-term plan for European agriculture research and innovation. This will provide funding, training and support to projects aiming to improve how we produce food in Europe.
What does this mean in practice? It means developing new technologies, apps, and systems to make the farmer more productive, more eco-friendly, and more profitable. There are already tons of great projects out there.
When I visited Ireland with Commissioner Moedas last year, we saw first-hand a European project which helps farmers measure grass quantity more accurately, using ultra-sonic sensors with recorded GPS co-ordinates.
The development of unmanned aerial vehicles for agriculture is picking up speed: they will benefit farmers in numerous ways and not just for data gathering. These UAVs can also improve cattle monitoring, crop sowing, fertilising, spraying and more.
We are designing new ways to bring farmers, researchers and investors together to do even more.
Under Rural Development Policy, pilot projects can be set up to trigger tests for things like precision farming.
Imagine you have a group, say five farmers that are interested in experimenting with a decision support system to improve methods for fertilising and spraying a certain crop. They could team up with a scientist or advisor, a software company and possibly a machinery supplier to set up such a system together. The risk would be covered largely by the rural development fund and they could learn and see whether the system lives up to its promise.
Meanwhile, it's great to reward the people who are succeeding in this mission. This week I also met the winners of awards for women innovators in agriculture, in Brussels and Madrid. We need much more of this in the years to come, and these examples will inspire new innovators. Well done to you all!