SustainIT Newsletter 6/2022

Dear readers,

We are halfway through the project SustainIT – Releasing the Potential of ICT for Sustainable Milk and Beef Cattle Value Chains. The present newsletter gives an overview on how the Living Labs have progressed in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Estonia, and what unique and common ICT adoption challenges have stakeholders in different countries reported, preliminary reflections on the results of the consumer survey as well as upcoming events and further plans.

In the spring, the SustainIT conducted a consumer survey in all four participating countries on the perceptions and attitudes towards the animal welfare topics, ICT use and on food purchasing behaviour. Responses collected from more than 4800 consumers give an opportunity to delve into the consumers’ interests and dairy and meat purchasing behaviour and the analysis of those results has just started. The newsletter also summarizes another survey – in spring 2022 the European Commission published report on the study of animal welfare labelling in the EU that is highly relevant in the context of present project.  

One of the topics the came up in the Living Labs again and again was how farmers can benefit from sharing their data with other stakeholders. Very simply, what do they get in return to motivate them to cooperate and to submit more data than the absolute minimum required by law and regulations. As the amount of raw data collected with farm equipment, milking robots etc. is huge, it is the farmers who combine the preliminary data sources and filter this data for next stakeholders in value chain and often with considerable labour and time costs. Thus, how to simplify data collection and exchange with farmers is of interest to all stakeholders. This relates to the topic of business models in this project addressed in WP3. The European Union is launching data initiatives related to the European Strategy of Data. The aims of those can only be achieved if sustainable business models emerge that would give a stake to farmers as the data producers.

In the second half of 2022, the work starts on how farms integrate ICT to their decision making practices, how farmers evaluate the digital applications and what are potential obstacles, as well as what kind of novel business models have emerged or could emerge that would benefit all the stakeholders. 

The work of public sector’s interactions started with the mapping the relevant data initiatives in the four countries and examining of how public sectors representatives see their role in the agricultural digitalization. Partners reached out to the different digital innovation hubs (DIH) and in the second half of the project, focus will be on working together to find solutions the specific challenges identified in the Living Labs.  

With best regards, 
Dr. Ants-Hannes Viira
SustainIT coordinator

SustainIT progress

Country Living Labs delve deeper into digital challenges 

From January to June, the Living Labs proceeded with discussions on the Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) and data initiatives in agriculture, challenges related to ICT applications and adoption and challenges related to innovations and stakeholders in the food value chain. Different topics have attracted various new participants into the Living Labs. In Estonian and Swedish Living Labs, the number of stakeholders participating doubled with 25- 30 participants in the April and June meetings.

The Living Labs are the centerpiece of the SustainIT. Another round of Living Lab workshops in the first half of 2022 provided opportunities to address both country specific as well as universal ICT challenges for the EU farmers.

German, Estonian and Finnish Living Labs laid the ground work for next Living Lab meetings and WP4 innovation ecosystem topics by introducing the ongoing data initiatives at the EU and country level and the concept of the DIH. Discussion focused on how the DIHs could be utilized and what kind of ICT related challenges should be selected as the focus for the cooperation with the DIHs in each country. The Finnish Living Lab emphasized the better use already existing data and tackling the problem of fair sharing of costs. In Estonian Living Lab, the use of existing data and databases was also prioritized with emphasis on provision of better services and analytics based on the already collected data, end-user friendly approach and help with technical improvement of data exchange and interoperability to motivate the farmers to provide their data and make better use of existing applications. The common challenges of farmers’ low participation in data collection, technical implementation and user friendliness of data input, standardization issues came up also in the German Living Lab. The potential solutions offered were building a new database structure, a more centralized approach, increase of transparency and cooperation with public authorities.

The Swedish Living Lab concentrated on the innovation in the beef and dairy value chains, the role of stakeholders and necessary conditions for innovation. In order to tackle the digitalization challenges, the competence of stakeholders is vital as well as attracting innovative companies to the food value chain. As the consumers play central role in creating demand for the innovation, educating them on sustainable food consumption has to go hand in hand with improving the innovation and digitalization competencies within the sector.

Consumer survey

WP3 concentrates on the social and business value creation from animal health and welfare related data and ICT solutions. In the first half of 2022, consumer surveys were conducted in each country to collect data on the attitudes, interests and habits of the final consumers of dairy and meat products. More specifically, the survey covered topics:

  • Dietary and consumption habits and factors impacting those
  • Attitudes towards the importance of animal health and welfare information on food products
  • Responsibilities of different stakeholders
  • Information sources on animal health and welfare
  • Use of ICT solutions for information and shopping

    Data was collected with electronic questionnaire surveys in each country. The total number of respondents from four countries was 4816 (Germany had 2002, Finland 1003, Estonia 1000, Sweden 811 respondents).

Preliminary results

Preliminary review of results indicated that Estonian consumers stood out as having somewhat higher share of people who classified themselves as eating everything (90%) in comparison with Germany, Finland and Sweden in which their share was between 75%-79%. The share of consumers that do not eat meat, dairy or any other animal derived products was similarly small between 1%-2% in all countries. Taste and appearance were on of the main factors impacting food purchasing decisions. In case of animal health and welfare factors, the most important one for the consumers is that animals did not have any diseases or disorders and the lack of pain and suffering for the animals.

The data from consumer survey will be analysed in more detail in the second half of 2022. The results will be the subject of discussion with value chain stakeholders in the next country Living Labs meetings.

In the second half of 2022, to activities will proceed with mapping the national consumer oriented ICT applications, elaborating the methodology for the study of business model innovation. 

Public sector interactions

WP4 focuses on the public sector’s role and on the creation of innovation ecosystem that would facilitate digitalization in the value chain. In the first half of project present situation relating to data initiatives, data pooling and role of public sector was studied with desk study and interviews. In the second half of the project focus will shift on co-creation of recommendations for public sector to help bolster the ICT innovation ecosystem.

In the first half of 2022, partners started with preliminary screening of national data initiatives. The aim was to identify the initiatives that fit the criteria: 

  • Aim to improve the availability, quality and interoperability of data;
  • Includes the creation of data governance framework;
  • Include the deployment of data-sharing tools and platforms.

One of the data initiatives studied included Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs’ ongoing initiative of creating the Agricultural Big Data System. The aim of the initiative is to bring together the data from different databases that fall under the governance area of Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs. This would provide agricultural producers better opportunities to access  data from various databases and utilize this data for their economic and production decisions.    The project started four years ago with a feasibility study (Agricultural Research Centre et al. 2019). The preliminary topic has been the data of plant production, more specifically the use of the data from Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board (CAP paying agency), data on nutrient and carbon balance and fertilisation rates, integrated plant protection and crop rotations, soil data. 

The feasibility study was conducted by a team representing main Estonian research centers and representatives from IT and software enterprises. The analysis covered analysis of existing systems, data structures and standards, data dimensions as well as legal and economic analysis for big data system.

The data analysis included a review of 41 databases that could be merged with agricultural big data system, however, only a few databases are fully ready for merging. The main problems were related to (Agricultural Research Centre et al. 2019: 13):

  • Lack of Estonian e-solution X-Road or web services that would allow making data inquiries from database.
  • Data quality in database.
  • Lack of metadata, description in RIHA (administration system for the state information system) does not correspond to actual situation.
  • Databases that have data, but have not been lawfully established.
  • Databases lack special software for data management, which increases the risk of corruption and loss of data.
  • Data of database are not disclosed or database holders do not wish to disclose data.

Report demonstrated that the big data system is technologically and legally complex project. Example of this that for a creation of big data system in Estonia, more than 100 different legislative acts have to be considered (Agricultural Research Centre et al. 2019).

In the next stage, Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs’  initiative on the Agricultural Big Data System will proceed with the development of minimal viable service for creation of the preliminary technical solution that would allow the connection of databases as well as tackling the legal side of it. The plan in the coming years is to expand the project also to livestock production data.

For more information : 

Partner news and events

Swedish partner’s study on the use of co-creation for the development of human resource management practices

The concept of the Living Labs builds on the co-creation of solutions with the value chain stakeholders. Co-creation and its implementation in open innovation and various business practices has been the research interest of the Swedish team from Halmstad University. A recent paper by team members Pia Ulvenblad and Henrik Barth examines the use of co-creation in human resource management in forestry industry in Sweden. Co-creation builds on the stakeholder interactions and requires creation of meaningful dialogue, access and transparency of information. The value of co-creation lies in the process itself and not only in the output of the process. The paper is based on a case study of an enterprise in forest industry. The researchers utilized action-oriented approach and worked with the company to evaluate its needs and provide feedback on starting up the work towards formal the human resource management practices. 

For more information:

Ulvenblad, P., Barth, H. (2021) Liability of smallness in SMEs – Using co-creation as a method for the ‘fuzzy front end’ of HRM practices in the forest industry. Scandinavian Journal of Management 37 (3),

University of Oulu presented the preliminary comparison of databases to stakeholders

Agricultural Sciences Day, a national scientific meeting organised by the Finnish Society of Agricultural Sciences, attracts both researchers and sector stakeholders. This year it took place from June 14th to 15th. Finnish team from University of Oulu led by Pekka Kilpeläinen introduced the preliminary results of WP2 database comparison to the Finnish stakeholders. All countries are required to keep the registry of animals and database for monitoring the use of antibiotic. There are differences in how the databases have been historically developed, their funding and present practices with the common challenges of improving the data transfer, information access to stakeholders and long term sustainability of the databases.

More information: Kilpeläinen, P., Kallio, T., Virtanen, V. (2022) Lypsy- ja lihakarjan terveystietoa keräävät tietokannat Ruotsissa, Saksassa, Suomessa ja Virossa.


Halmstad university drone for measuring water quality

Project partners have wide variety of interest related to digital solutions, sensors, drones and not only in agriculture. Project partner Halmstad University has been developing a drone for measuring the water quality in the river Nissan in Halmstad.

Check out the news (in Swedish).


Study on Animal Welfare Labelling

In March, the European Commission et al. (2022) published a study of animal welfare labelling in the EU. Survey collected data that could support potential initiatives relating to animal welfare labelling across Europe. The research compared the consumers’ awareness and attitudes on animal welfare labels, mapped the labelling schemes in different EU countries and related problems. 

The results indicate that generally the EU consumers awareness on the farm conditions is limited. Consumers’ level of concern towards conditions under which animals are kept has increased, but their level of awareness of modern animal farming practices is relatively low. In each Member State more than half of the consumers felt that the information available is insufficient to allow them to make informed choices about the food products they buy based on animal  welfare. Finnish consumers were most satisfied with the availability (47% agreeing that information is sufficient), while Estonian (37%), Swedish (33%) and German (31%) consumers scores were closer to EU average (31%) (European Commission et al. 2022). The consumers indicated that they would like to receive more information on the topic, incl. on slaughter conditions, feeding, outdoor access and housing conditions.  The level of interest towards animal welfare information varied across countries. Consumers in Finland and Sweden indicated very high interest towards receiving information on animal welfare as well as younger people and females.  Those findings are well in line with those previously demonstrated in research literature. Consumers preferred a label that is present on all animal-based products, thus effort should be made to develop a labelling scheme suitable to food products from all animal species (European Commission et al. 2022).   

Media and newspapers were the most preferred sources of information how farm animals are kept and treated (respectively 49% and 47% of respondents getting their information from those sources). Just over a quarter (27%) mentioned labels of food products indicating that the dissemination of animal welfare information through food labels has been very limited. The influence of labels on purchasing decisions was also limited, thus one of the suggestions of the study was to combine traditional media with food labels to raise awareness (European Commission et al. 2022).

The consumer declared willingness to pay more for high welfare products, but not more than they currently pay for organic products. Willingness to pay increases with better understanding on farming practices and if consumers believe the food product has higher quality. Consumers preferred labels that are in text or logo format and had less interest in QR codes or electronic information. Important aspect is the sufficient size of the label. The results indicate that color-coded scales and evaluative labels (providing assessment on product vs. descriptive labels that provide neutral factual information)  may perform better.

The study mapped 51 labels with animal welfare claims in the EU and UK. Most of them are created and run by private organisations and publicly run animal welfare labels are rare. Consumers are somewhat more likely to trust welfare labels that are managed by NGOs or the EU public authorities than labels run by retailers or producer organizations.  The consumers preferred EU intervention by indicating that the EU should provide animal welfare information.  

Most of the welfare labels are national ones, however 16 of the 27 EU Member States had no national-level labels on animal welfare. The standards for those labels differ considerably. The products bearing animal welfare labels are generally more expensive than regular products. However, the competitive advantage from the animal welfare labelling often does not extend outside the home country. Most of current labelling schemes are country-based and often do not provide advantage in other countries as the labels are not recognizable to their consumers or retailers. At the same time, the producers and farmers have to compete in the same market with competitors that may have lower welfare standards and related lower production costs.  The standards for different labels and their implementation costs for the producers as well as level of information and guarantees provided to the consumers vary significantly across Member States. 

Half of existing labelling schemes cover the full duration of life of animals (welfare on-farm, during transport, and at slaughter), while remaining schemes vary in terms of what part of production cycle they cover. The species most commonly covered are pigs (32 schemes out of 48 analysed), beef cattle and broilers (27 schemes respectively), laying hens (26), dairy (21), sheep (18). 14 labels cover only one species, while 24 schemes cover five or more species.  In terms of production systems, 6 labels are for organic production. Most of the labelling schemes have higher welfare criteria than national and EU legislation and require third party auditors (European Commission et al. 2022). 

For more information:

European Commission, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, Maestre, M., Campbell, L., Etienne, J., et al. (2022). Study on animal welfare labelling: final report. Publications Office of the European Union.


Upcoming Activities and Events

SustainIT activities 

  • Starting from August, next round of country Living Labs will start. Most of partners will proceed with discussion on the SustainIT consumer survey results and selection of problem to address in cooperation with DIHs. 
  • From September 28th to 30th, the ICT-AGRI-FOOD mid-term seminar will be held in Aachen, Germany. The ongoing projects, including SustainIT, will provide an overview on their progress.

Other events

  • ICT-AGRI-FOOD announced the 2022 joint call focusing on More transparent agri-food systems for consumers and other stakeholders along the food value chain based on ICT technologies. The project proposals should address one of three topics:
    • Agri-food systems enabled by interconnected digital technologies that are more transparent to consumers, farmers and other stakeholders along the agri-food value chain
    • Identify, address and remove barriers for adoption of ICT technologies in the agri- food systems
    • Development and impact estimation of data-driven reward and incentive systems to support sustainable and resilient farm management practices

The deadline for submissions in on August 15th.

For more information:

Spotlight on project partners

University of Oulu

University of Oulu (UO) is the main university of Northern Finland. Founded in 1958, it is one of the biggest and most multidisciplinary universities in Finland.

The Unit of Measurement Technology at UO is a research unit located in Kajaani in Kainuu region. The unit focuses on applied research in two main areas of application: cleantech and health and wellness. Cleantech research concentrates of new applications of measurement technology for real-time environmental monitoring, process industries, forestry, and on tackling the challenges and utilizing opportunities generated by renewable bioeconomy. Health and wellness research develops on-line biosensors, including development and provision of analytics for agri-food sector. The research relating to animal sector has involved on-line sensors and point-of-care biosensors for dairy cow health and processes in dairy industry. The Unit of Measurement Technology applies traditional analytics to biomass measurements, e.g. in feed and food studies and has strong experience in validation and evaluation of measurement methods. UO is leading partner of two Finnish EIP-AGRI projects, both including development and piloting of data transfer and mobile applications at farms and rely on co-development of innovations with farmers and a number of experts including representatives of ICT and dairy industry (Valio) and veterinarians.

UO Team Members are Dr. Pekka Kilpeläinen, Elisa Tikkanen, Dr. Vesa Virtanen

Newsletter editor and contact

Anne Põder, Estonian Dairy Cluster
More information from:
News in: LinkedIn


The SustainIT project has received funding from national funding agencies in Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, in the framework of the ERA-NET Cofund ICT-AGRI-FOOD 2019 Joint Call (European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme grant agreement no 862665). 

The national funding bodies of the partners are:

  • Ministry of Rural Affairs (Estonian University of Life Sciences)
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (University of Oulu)
  • The Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (Halmstad University)
  • Estonian Research Council (Estonia Dairy Cluster)
  • Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Technical University of Munich)