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Coordination of European Research on ICT and Robotics in Agriculture and Related Environmental Issues

Periodic Report Summary - ICT-AGRI (Coordination of European Research on ICT and Robotics in Agriculture and Related Environmental Issues)

Project context and objectives:

European agriculture is facing conflicting future challenges: global needs for food and bio-energy; consumer demands for food quality and security; animal welfare; reduction of the environmental footprint; diminishing rural populations; and international competition. Advancements in information and communication technologies (ICT) and robotics are needed to facilitate the implementation of a green bio-production. Common solutions are required, but European research and innovation remains fragmented.

The objective of ICT-AGRI is to contribute to a coordinated European research and innovation in this important area. This will be achieved by five overall goals for ICT-AGRI:

- a comprehensive publicly accessible knowledge base concerning research and development (R&D)
- a widely accepted Strategic Research Agenda (SRA)
- three successful calls for trans-national projects
- viable networks for funders as well as researchers and developers
- supplementary support actions for coordinated R&Development.

Project results:

The work performed in the project and the achieved results in relations to the five goals are the following.

A comprehensive publicly accessible knowledge base concerning R&D:

Mapping of existing R&D is a prominent part of this ERA-Net as of most other ERA-Nets. ICT-AGRI combines the mapping with online dissemination of the collected data. ICT-AGRI has developed a novel approach denoted the 'ICT-AGRI meta knowledge base'. The meta knowledge base contains profiles of all major research organisations within ICT and robotics in agriculture (this is also published in a country report) and profiles of many individual researchers. The database is being populated with metadata on current R&D. The meta knowledge base is also being developed as an online tool for interactions with and among researchers and developers.

A widely accepted SRA:
The SRA will at the end of the project be an important reference paper for funding of R&D within ICT and robotics in agriculture. A draft SRA has been developed internally in ICT-AGRI, and is now in consultations with stakeholders. An online consultation has run through April and June, and the results are presented for discussion at this workshop. A first version of the SRA will be produced within the next two or three months and made available for further discussions. The final version will be produced towards the end of ICT-AGRI.

Three successful calls for trans-national projects:
ICT-AGRI has completed its first call for trans-national projects based on national funding by the countries in the ERA-net. The call for pre-proposals attracted 44 applications. Of these, 14 were invited to submit a full proposal, which subsequently were evaluated by an international scientific panel. Seven projects are funded with a total sum of approximately EUR 3 millions in a virtual pot (each country funds only national project partners). The next call is expected to be issued by the end of 2011.

Viable networks for funders as well as researchers and developers:
The development of networks within the research area, including the network's viability after the end of the project, is a major strategic objective. ICT-AGRI views the meta knowledge base as a major instrument for networking among funders as well as researchers and developers, and ICT-AGRI will during the project further develop the networking facilities in the website. The viability is supported by the meta knowledge base being implemented by open source software and database, which facilitates a transfer to other projects for future hosting. Two issues at this workshop are related to networks for researchers and developers: encouragement of public-private partnerships andoOnline information about ICT and automation in agriculture.

Supplementary support actions for coordinated R&D:
True networking in the research area also involves shared activities with no or little common funding. Examples are so-called non-competitive calls, coordinated R&D in several countries concerning specific topics, open source software development, and open standards. ICT-AGRI will support such kinds of networking in a bottom-up approach.

Potential impact:

The intended long-term impact of ICT-AGRI is to enable the creation a European network of mutually accessible and complementary research programmes, which are suited to respond to the rapidly developing needs of common European policy drivers and also to an efficient implementation of new EU policies on mitigation and adaptation of climate changes, environmental regulations and legislation, traceability, food safety, agro-environmental and rural development.

The European dimension of ICT-AGRI is important in two aspects. Firstly, the quality of research and development within ICT and robotics in agriculture will increase as a consequence of improved collaboration and coordination. Secondly, common data exchange standards, common environmental regulation schemes and further harmonization, which are expected to grow out of the increased collaboration, will vastly improve the potentials for cross-border application of ICT and robotics solutions. The activities in ICT-AGRI to stimulate cross-border networks embracing science, industry, practice and public are expected to have a lasting impact towards the establishment of a common European market for solutions and applications related to ICT and robotics in agriculture and environment.

ICT-AGRI supports the initiatives from the European Commission (EC) concerning a greener agriculture through coordination and focus on the research and its potential impact within the agricultural sector and the related environmental issues. The maintenance or expansion of the agricultural production depends on the balance between the production and the environmental standard of the society and an improvement of the environmental image of the agricultural sector. Therefore, there is an increased interest from agriculture and society to use environmentally efficient technologies that reduces the effects of the agricultural productions on the surrounding environment. The Strategic research Agenda developed by ICT-AGRI as well as the cross-border projects funded by ICT-AGRI partners will support the development of a greener agriculture.

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