Open Access Government looks at the key areas the European Commission is focusing on in regards to agriculture, and how new Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan hopes to bring the agriculture sector into the 21st Century

The agriculture sector is integral to European society in order to meet the challenges of an ever-growing population. As well as providing food and raw materials for countries, agriculture also provides job opportunities and a great source of livelihood for many rural communities.

Tasked with overseeing agriculture and rural development throughout Europe, is the new Commissioner Phil Hogan. Previously the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government in his home nation of Ireland, Hogan is preceded by Dacian Cioloș. In meeting the many challenges facing the agriculture sector – including growing world food demand – the new Rural Development Policy will be a key driver. The policy aims to encourage investments in rural areas and support innovation projects.

In his first speech at the Brussels, 6th Knowledge and Innovation Summit, European Parliament, in November 2014, Hogan highlighted the importance of innovation in the agriculture industry, which is a key priority in his mandate.

“Agriculture has always been an innovative sector. Most of the farms today have little in common with the farms of the 1950s. And the farms of 2050 will probably differ significantly from the farms of today,” he said.

“European Farming is an innovative sector: farmers have delivered on the societal goals of food security, food safety and quality. They have achieved this whilst protecting the environment and being more resource-efficient.

“However, the challenges and also the opportunities that are ahead of us are as great today as they were 60 years ago.”

The global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, and one of the many challenges facing the agriculture sector is food security, which Hogan believes is bigger than ever.

He continued: “World food systems will have to increase in efficiency and productivity to ensure that people have access to the food they need. We will have to do more with less through greater use of recycling, up-cycling and above all, wasting less. EU agriculture should be at the forefront of this efficiency drive.

“Part of this will encourage young innovators to see farming as an attractive, high tech and rewarding career. I am glad that the new Common Agriculture Policy goes a long way to increase the appeal of farming as a career.”

The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was first launched in 1962 in order to help improve agricultural productivity, so that consumers have a stable supply of affordable food, and ensure that farmers can make a reasonable living.

In 2013 the CAP was reformed in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the sector, promote sustainable farming and innovation, and support jobs and growth in rural areas.

“Innovative agriculture should also ensure the protection of natural resources, biodiversity, landscape, soil, and water, and increase the environmental and climate benefits that farming provides,” explained the Commissioner.

“Innovation is the key to sustainable rural development: through innovation, we can maintain the competitiveness of the agri-food sector and create more and better jobs in rural areas, all the while safeguarding the planet for future generations.”

Alongside the Rural Development Policy, the Horizon 2020 programme will also provide a considerable boost to agriculture and forestry. The programme aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of agriculture and forestry while strengthening related food and non-food industries.

In his speech, Hogan expressed the commitment to agriculture and forestry research through the Horizon 2020 programme, which expects to see funding reach €4bn for 2014-2020.

“In parallel to our efforts in rural development policy, we are delivering a considerable boost to agriculture and forestry research through Horizon 2020. The budget has been doubled compared to the previous programming period.

“Support to research and innovation is coupled together to develop cross-thematic activities and avoid traditional research in “silos”. The goal is to ensure that Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation, delivers research from universities and institutes to the farm gate and the rural economy, and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in making innovation happen.”

In December 2014, the European Commission gave the green light to 6 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs), which will help to provide different forms of support and investment in rural Europe between 2014 and 2020.

“The new Rural Development Policy will be a key driver to encourage investments in rural areas and support business start-ups and innovation projects,” said Hogan in a speech in December 2014 to the European Parliament.

“With the boost to agricultural research, European farmers will have better access to knowledge and increase productivity.”

As well as providing a much-needed boost to farmers already in the throes of their careers, the European Commission is keen to help improve support for young farmers as they start their career in agriculture. Making the sector an attractive place to find employment and carve a career is a base for achieving future goals, as supported by the Commissioner.

“Young farmers are important for the future of EU’s agriculture with a view to growth, competitiveness, jobs and investment. The agricultural sector in the EU is still characterised by an age – and in many

Member States ageing – farming population, though recently there have been signs of improvement. “There is a wide range of support measures for Young Farmers under the new Rural Development policy, for example the business start-up aid for young farmers subject to a business plan, a higher support of up to 90% for investments in physical assets, support for information, advice and training, for cooperation activities and so on.

“With these measures, we can help ensure that farming remains an attractive career choice for young people across Europe.”

Hogan has certainly made a good start in his tenure as European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, by showing the Commission’s commitment to ensuring the agriculture sector is well placed to make a central contribution to the new economic agenda.

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.

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