SustainIT Newsletter 1/2022
We are excited to introduce you the second newsletter of the project SustainIT – Releasing the Potential of ICT for Sustainable Milk and Beef Cattle Value Chains. This issue gives an overview on the progress of the project – review of existing databases of cattle data, first impressions from the Living Labs, upcoming activities for 2022, EU and national events related to digitalization in agriculture.
Review of the existing cattle databases shows that all project countries have animal registry and databases related to milk recording, which may include or are integrated with databases containing animal health and welfare data. However, the governance and management differ in countries. In Finland and Sweden, farmers’ cooperatives and associations have the main role, while in Germany and Estonia the databases are more related to government organizations.
The SustainIT initiated Living Labs in four project countries for a long-term networking that enables new synergies during the project and beyond. The first Living Lab meetings in project countries demonstrated that the challenges are very similar across the four countries and mainly revolve around data interoperability, trust and data security, finding relevant information from ever increasing data masses, and need for analytical insights and benchmarking for enterprise management. Potential solutions include training of stakeholders, collaborations of ICT companies to create more user-friendly solutions, collecting and unifying more data on animal health, treatments and use of medicines.
In addition to these questions, in 2022 the SustainIT project will scrutinize more closely the potential monetary benefits of digitalization in cattle value chains, and the role of public sector at national and EU levels.
The SustainIT project partners are also active in national and EU networks. This issue provides insights from the conference “Digital transition in Estonian agriculture”, EIP-AGRI workshop on farm data for better farm performance, and workshop on Common European Data Spaces.
With wishes for 2022,
Dr. Ants-Hannes Viira
Review on animal health and welfare databases
Animal health and welfare data analysis kicked off in 2021 with review on existing databases that include cattle health and welfare data in Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Germany, and analysis of existing ways and technologies for the data collection.
The review of databases focuses on:
- How the data collection as a process is organised and how data is saved?
- Who is funding and managing databases, who decides about access and availability of data, and to whom they are open?
- How well do databases and data collection cover farms/animals and what are the means to motivate farmers to join?
The project partners analysed major cattle databases in their countries and reviewed the related practices. All partner countries have the animal registries required by EU-legislation, and databases saving milk recording and analysis data. Partner countries also collect animal health data, but the practices and databases vary across countries. Estonia has two databases for cattle data, other countries have around 5 major databases. Estonia has combined milk recordings and health data to same database. Germany does similarly, but is has altogether 3 major data bases for health data and 2 for milk recordings.
In Finland and Sweden, the most databases have been initiated and managed by the farmers’ co-operatives and associations including dairies, advisory organizations and cattle farm associations. Thus, the databases have been generated by farming-related non-governmental organizations. In Estonia and Germany, databases have been initiated by governmental organizations or offices, although currently they may be run by (at least partly state-owned) companies. In Finland, the databases have been developed by the same company, and data is transferred between the databases fluently. Estonian database system is the youngest. Germany has animal health database that is connected to quality certificate system for beef.
There are some examples about using animal health data outside of farms and by other actors besides the farmers and database owners (most typically for research), but in all countries data is owned by farmers. In Finland, there are initial plans to use data in NASEVA database, which covers more than 96% of Finnish dairy cows, to create a welfare certificate. A strong current development trend is data analytics and user-friendly presentation of data by graphics.
Kick-Off of Country Living Labs
The project creates knowledge through the Living Labs (LL), which were initiated in each country during last six months of 2021. The LL approach is based on stakeholder engagement, collaboration and joint problem solving, but also helps to steer the project focus according to the current agenda of digitalization in cattle supply chains in partner countries.
In the first six months of 2021, the research team worked on the methodological approach for the CLLs and PLL. This included specifying the aims, organization, and the training of research team members regarding stakeholder engagement. The first CLL meeting took place in Sweden in July, followed by CLL meetings in Germany, Estonia and Finland in October and November.
The SustainIT LLs have two-layered structure:
- The research team meets regularly in a central, overarching Project Living Lab (PLL). This Living Lab focuses on a continuous, cross boarder co-learning process, setting the research agenda and methodological approaches.
- In each country, the local research team has additionally initiated a Country Living Lab (CLL) with the stakeholders in the cattle value chain. The CLL focuses on the identification of barriers of the digitalization, the creation of conceptual solutions and building a network.
The Swedish team was the first to conduct CLL with an on-line meeting on 1 July. The 12 participants represented beef and dairy farmers, dairy industry, an ICT-consultancy, regional farmers’ association, veterinarians, public sector and researchers.
The discussion focused on the opportunities and challenges of ICT adoption. The stakeholders agreed that in the digitalized value chain of today, the information gathering is not a problem. Instead, the challenges concern other issues like selection of data, data exchange and commercialization of data. The volume of data is high, so it is important to focus not on all data, but on relevant data. Therefore, the main problem areas are the skills of stakeholders; trade-offs between the human touch/daily supervision and cost-effective ICT-solutions, traceability vs. integrity, data security vs. cooperation/exchange of data. The potential solutions include training of end users, collaboration and more user-friendly ICT solutions developed for practitioners.
German CLL meeting took place on 29 October with stakeholders representing farmers, veterinarians, farmer organizations (dairy and beef) and the ICT sector. The topics discussed included the main challenges for data exchange in value chain and potential solutions for promotion of animal health and welfare through ICT. The stakeholders group identified the lack of software integration and data exchange interfaces along the value chain, e.g. between databases of farmer organizations and veterinary software as a major barrier for a continuous data exchange. Furthermore, different software standards, potential costs of additional effort, data protection, the associated transparency, and the potential increase in the market dominance of the retailers were identified as significant challenges.
Different solutions could help to overcome those barriers: offering integration of data from various ICT systems as a web solution, forming collaboration between ICT providers to create data exchange interfaces, communicating the added (monetary) value of health monitoring among farmers and creating (monetary) rewards to facilitate the development of a data “market”. At the value chain level, clear communication, well defined regulations for data protection and data security, and suitable infrastructure will improve the data exchange and transparency.
The first meeting of Estonian CLL took place on 28 October with stakeholders representing the operators of two main Estonian cattle databases, public sector, dairy and beef farmers, breeding cooperative, dairy industry, farm input and technology suppliers, researchers, farmers’ organizations. The CLL mapped the interests of stakeholders; reviewed the main cattle databases in Estonia and compared these with the similar database in other project countries; and discussed the existing problems and potential solutions. For the stakeholders, most pressing questions were related to the data entry and collection procedures, including solutions for registering hoof health data, data reliability and availability to different parties, future needs of the industry and public sector, including data on antibiotics use, CO2 footprint, grazing, feed and slaughter data.
The biggest challenges identified included the still quite frequent manual data entry, lack of integration and interoperability of existing databases, private sector’s capabilities; access to and analysis of data on hoof health, medical treatments, medicine and antibiotics use, sharing the data with the industry, performance and compliance measurement and provision of benchmarking insights to the farmers. The solutions for improving data exchange included increase of collaboration, including learning from international experience, expansion of data coverage in existing databases and improved data exchange between existing databases.
The first meeting of Finnish CLL was organized on 24 November and included stakeholders representing major actors in cattle database and ICT sector, dairy companies, slaughterhouses and beef industry, experts and administrators, and farmers. The discussion topics were the databases in Finland and in partner countries, and the vision on the databases and use of data in 2030.
Discussion during the CLL pointed out that Finland already collects a lot of data and Finland has been a forerunner in establishing databases. Main interest lies in how to valorize the already existing data. Currently, a strong development trend in Finnish databases appears to be data analytics and transforming data to graphic presentations. However, also technology behind the databases requires renewal. Potential solutions could be international collaborations that could increase comparability of data. Obtaining data from AMS (automated milking systems) to databases would be a great improvement. Wellbeing certificates could be a tool to demonstrate quality of the products and could be partly based on health data in databases, but marketing also requires a good story. Encouragingly, some surveys say customers would be willing to pay more based on animal wellbeing, thus this could facilitate data exchange in value chain.
The Upcoming Activities
WP3 of the project analyses social and business value creation from animal health and welfare related data and ICT. The first set of WP3 activities concentrate on the consumers’ role and demand for animal health and welfare data. Dietary trends have been changing in the last decade in particular with shift towards plant-based and flexitarian diets that aim to reduce the consumption of animal products. Concerns for animal welfare and environmental sustainability have been the main drivers. For a sustainable animal production, the value chain stakeholders need not only to address the technological and environmental footprint of their activities, but the social acceptability of those activities. The information needs to flow in the value chain in both directions: accurate and reliable information on the production conditions in each part of the value chain should flow from farmers downstream to end-consumers. The data on consumers’ information needs, access options, level of awareness on, and interest in animal welfare and health and ICT practices should flow back upstream.
The consumer survey of WP3 studies the barriers and opportunities for connecting producers with the end consumers and how can value be created from animal health and welfare data. Partners are in the process of preparing a consumer survey that would more specifically collect data on factors that impact consumers’ food purchasing decisions, ICT and data use practices in food purchasing, relevant information sources for data on animal health and welfare, attitudes and perceptions on animal health and welfare. The survey will be conducted in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Estonia during the first six months of 2022.
Public Sector Interactions
WP4 concentrates on the role of public sector in improving availability of animal health and welfare data in the dairy and beef value chain and in creating supportive ICT ecosystems.
In 2022, WP4 starts with mapping data initiatives in the partner countries that have been created to significantly improve the availability, quality and interoperability of data in agri-food supply chains, with public sector and research organizations. The activities of this WP are to a significant extent synchronized with impactful initiatives and policy actions, like the creation of Common European Agricultural Data Space  and the Horizon Europe candidate partnership “Agriculture of Data” .
In parallel, WP4 has started preparing an innovation experiment that will run in every partner country. This experiment aims to assess the innovation process that develops during the interaction of the CLLs and selected Digital Innovation Hubs  to find solutions to practical problems in regards of health and welfare in cattle and dairy sector.
Project and Digitalization Related Events
Conference “Digital Transition in Estonian Agriculture”
In 2021, Estonia adopted a new strategic plan “Digital Society 2030” that sets the vision, goals and actions for digitalization in this decade. Estonia has been frontrunner in digitalization of public services and e-government, but needs to address 5G connectivity, digitalization challenges in private sector, training of ICT specialists, and mitigation of new cyber risks. The measures to address those issues will help to facilitate digital leap in agriculture and animal husbandry, including in monitoring of arable land, precision agriculture and cost savings, better ICT adoption and skills in the sector.
On 11 November 2021, Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce organized a first conference on the challenges and developments of the ongoing digital transition in agriculture. The conference covered three main themes: public framework for digitalization, digitalization in crop production and digitalization in animal production.
The discussion on the public sector’s role covered several subtopics. Estonia is in the process of preparing the new CAP strategic plan that aims to facilitate the use of big data and connect is with the strategic development of agricultural registries, including the digital field diary for farmers, with aim to improve knowledge exchange, create suitable data spaces and facilitate collaboration projects. Discussion on internet connectivity issues covered the progress of the high speed and 5G infrastructure development and addressing the connectivity issues in rural areas through the project “Last Mile 2.0”.
SustainIT team member Martin Kukk gave a presentation on the role of public sector in digitalization. The expectations towards the public sector are that the public digitalization policies should facilitate fair data exchange and data access to all stakeholders, create an appropriate legal framework, support the competitiveness of the agri-food sector and implementation of environmentally friendly technologies, and utilize the digital technologies for monitoring and supervision. The public sector’s role is to establish and enforce data protection standards and to ensure the rights of different stakeholders, particularly the groups that are the potentially the weaker side and struggle with digitization technologies and skills. Martin Kukk concluded that it is vital that the public sector develops an overarching strategic vision for the digitalization of agriculture and for the integration of various e-service infrastructure elements already developed in Estonia.
Digitalization in crop production covered the topics of existing soil map application of Agricultural Research Centre’s soil monitoring bureau and its present use and the development application for fertilization recommendation. Presentation on the use of drones concentrated on the practical challenges and Estonian Crop Research Institute’s tests with drones for measuring vegetation, plant phenotyping, weed detection, monitoring farming activities.
Section on digitalization in animal production discussed the future of dairy farming and examples of precision livestock farming, how data platforms could be utilized for monitoring animal feeding, behaviour, health and integrated with breeding values. SustainIT project coordinator Ants-Hannes Viira presented the SustainIT project and the preliminary results related to data exchange challenges in dairy farms in Estonia. At present, the two main databases for the cattle data in Estonia are the database of Estonian Livestock Performance Ltd. and the registry of agricultural animals of Agricultural Registers and Information Board. A typical dairy farm uses several applications and the biggest challenges are related to repeated manual data entry and data exchange between different databases, hardware and software.
SustainIT team member and the head of the Estonian Dairy Cluster, Hardi Tamm, presented the final conclusion of the conference. According to Hardi Tamm, all stakeholders need to prepare and upgrade their knowledge for successful digital transition in agriculture because none of us has prior experience in such a transformation. At the same time, digital transition is crucial for saving costs, creating more value added but also for attracting young talents into agri-food sector.
Common European Agricultural Data Space
On 2 December 2021, European Commission held an information session on agricultural data space . SustainIT team member Martin Kukk summarized the main points.
The European Strategy for Data  aims to create a single European data space – a market for open, high quality data that is accessible to stakeholders and that would be used for creating value, increasing competitiveness, minimizing the human carbon and environmental footprint. The legislation and governance should ensure data protection, access and investments into standards, tools, infrastructure. Agricultural Data Space is one of the twelve sectoral data spaces proposed by the European Commission.
The aim of the Agricultural Data Space is to connect the existing and emerging infrastructure, where different users such as businesses, governments and farmers can access data from one entry point. The data should be open, interoperable, re-usable. The relevant data stems from farms (production data), agro-industry (machinery, services, crop protection, seed, fertilizer data), public sector (geospatial, environmental, weather data). The digital infrastructure and governance mechanisms provided by the data space will create the potential to use and re-use the data for smart and more efficient farming, new services, improved information and transparency and monitoring and policy making.
The call for the coordination and support action for creating the Agricultural Data Space was launched mid-November 2021 and will be closed in February 2022. The action will make an inventory of existing data platforms and marketplaces, explore design approaches and propose design conceptual/approaches, develop multi-stakeholder governance scheme, acquire broad consensus on the approach, governance and business models and develop a roadmap for step-wise development of the data space. The contracts for carrying out the coordination and support action will last for 18 months and are expected to be signed by the end of the next year. A call for the implementation of the project (for creating the Agricultural Data Space) will be launched in 2023-2024.
EIP-AGRI Workshop on Farm Data for Better Farm Performance
On 9 and 10 December, EIP-AGRI Support Facility organized a virtual workshop on Farm data for better farm performance . From the SustainIT project team, Hardi Tamm and Tuija Kallio participated in the workshop. Tuija Kallio attended also the plenary panel discussion presenting SMARTFEED EIP-AGRI Operational Group.
The workshop aimed to share ideas and results of successful projects and initiatives that collect and make use of farm generated data to improve farm performance and to identify best practices. The workshop was interactive having several breakout room discussions on set topics as well as on open ideas that were suggested during the event.
Based on the identified barriers and problems, also solutions were discussed. It was seen that cooperative approach is a good way to build trust between the actors. Digital innovation hubs were seen as possible cooperatives to evaluate data sources and technology as well as to provide data platforms for data integration. In addition, it was clearly recognized that infrastructure and data platforms have to be developed further to enable sufficient use of technology in remote areas as well as to enable scaling up of data management and data analysis with AI. The skills and personal motivation of farmers were also seen as barriers that need user-friendly interfaces with clearly visualized data in readily useful form. Lighthouse farms could also act as examples for others to provide benchmarking and learning from peers. In addition, the value of intangible or long-term benefits should be highlighted when performing the cost-benefit analysis.
SMARTFEED – Smart measurements in cattle feeding and health EIP-AGRI Operation Grou  focused on the development of methods, tools, analytics and data transfer to for monitoring silage quality, and energy and protein nutrition balance in dairy cows on farms. The data collected mostly with biosensors help to increase efficiency and productivity by reducing feed costs and labor needs.
Upcoming Event: Estonian-Finnish Webinar on Cattle Health and Feeding on January 28th 2022
Estonian-Finnish Operational Group collaboration has been actively going on since 2018. The partners are organizing a bilingual webinar related to their R&D topics on monitoring cattle health, silage quality and feeding. The webinar is targeted to farmers and advisors and therefore, the practical aspects, costs and benefits are on focus. In Finland, the webinar is linked to a seminar held in Sarkamessut fair in Seinäjoki.
The programme is available at www.maainfo.ee and https://www.maaseutu.fi/maaseutuverkosto/tapahtumakalenteri
Spotlight on project partners
Technical University of Munich
The Chair Agricultural Production and Resource Economics at Technical University of Munich, a partner on the SustainIT project, has broad expertise that combines a wide range of research portfolios in sustainable agri-food systems, nutrition innovation, ecosystems and bioeconomy. It has rich experience in conducting collaborative and interdisciplinary research activities and in managing projects supported, for example, by the European Union, the CGIAR Research Program, the German Federal Ministries, the state of Bavaria, and other international organizations. Research activities mainly target agri-food producers, value chain infrastructure, and the consumer. The Chair has recently completed collaborative research projects including a study on decent rural employment, sponsored by the FAO, and the TUM-PARI (Program of Accompanying Research for Innovation) nutrition research in Benin, which has been funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Other examples of ongoing and completed projects include Model Organic Regions in Bavaria, sustainability management systems at the farm level (Germany), value chain collaborations, and climate-smart agriculture.
TUM Team Members are Dr. Getachew Abate Kassa, Antonia Rüede-Passul, Natascha Schlereth, Stefan Ruhland and Moritz Ptacek.
 European Commission (nd). A European Strategy for data. https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/strategy-data
 European Commission (2021). Agriculture of data. https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/agriculture-data_en
 SmartAgriHubs (nd). https://www.smartagrihubs.eu/hubs
 European Commission (2021). Information Session on a Common European Agricultural Data Space .https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/events/information-session-common-european-agricultural-data-space
 European Commission (2020). COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS A European strategy for data. COM/2020/66 final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1593073685620&uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0066
 For more information about the workshop Farm data for better farm performance: https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/en/event/eip-agri-workshop-farm-data-better-farm
 SMARTFEED (nd). Operational Group https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/en/news/videos-operational-group-smartfeed