SustainIT Newsletter 2/2023
We are halfway through the third and the final year of the SustainIT project. The partners’ focus has been on data analysis, introducing the project results to various audiences and networking. Several country Living Lab meetings discussing consumer survey and agricultural data strategies were held in the first half of 2023 as well as there are Living Labs meetings on public sector policies and for wrapping up the project coming up in the second half of 2023.
SustainIT project partners discussed project results in the conference of Swiss Society for Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Sociology the focus on which was “Transformation of Agri-Food Systems – Sustainability and Digitalization of Food Value Chains”. The presentations at the conference “Understanding Stakeholder Behaviour and Socio-economic Implications of Practices and Policies of Animal Health” of the International Society for Economics and Social Sciences of Animal Health addressed the prospects of digital technology in cattle health and creating connections with the customers as well as the factors that impact consumer food purchasing decisions. In the congress of the European Association of Agricultural Economists, we introduced the analytical framework for harmonizing the EU and member states’ policy instruments for creating a common data space for agriculture.
Digitalization is a timely topic as the EU is pursuing the 2030 Digital Decade policy program. In June, Key Performance Indicators for the Digital Decade targets were adopted, and the Member States are working on the national roadmaps. In March 2023, the European Parliament published a study on “Artificial Intelligence in the Agri-Food Sector. Applications, risks and impacts” that reviews the present state of knowledge, benefits, and concerns related to AI in various fields. While the state of knowledge on digitalization in agriculture is building up, considerable work is required to start to address the socioeconomic concerns, business models, and legal complexities.
With best regards,
Dr. Ants-Hannes Viira
Country Living Labs in the spring of 2023 focused on consumers and value chain challenges
The SustainIT partners continued to discuss the consumer survey results with the stakeholders. The survey collected data on various topics. Besides the opinions on what constitutes animal welfare, the questions on factors influencing overall purchasing behavior, the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, and the use of electronic devices while shopping were asked. The country living labs (CLLs) provided opportunities to share the information with value chain stakeholders as well as go into more detail in discussions on the consumers’ behavior. Some partners conducted the CLLs on the consumer survey already in 2022, while others held the CLLs in the first half of 2023.
Swedish CLL included a discussion on the challenges of small-scale food producers competing for public tenders and possible solutions such as cooperating in order to ensure sufficient volumes. The discussion of SustainIT consumer survey focused on how the IT could be used to improve animal welfare and added value. As taste and price are the most relevant factors for the consumers and the consumers do not see themselves as having substantial responsibility for ensuring animal welfare, there is considerable room for development. One of the main takeaways from the CLL was the agricultural sector has to start delivering more value-added from animal welfare and digitalization and it has to be more visible for the consumers.
The Finnish CLLs covered consumer survey but also discussed data sharing and data legislation challenges and public policies and initiatives supporting the digitalization in the agricultural sector. The survey indicated that Finns would be willing to pay more for animal welfare, however, it is not clear if this would be reflected in the actual purchasing behaviors. The consumers’ views are impacted by how the topic is presented and whether the food is domestically produced. The ICT tools will benefit farmers selling directly from the farms as they provide easy and direct access to producers’ information. The discussion of data sharing covered real-life examples of how farms share their data, the devices, and the data transmission services used. The main takeaway was that the technology itself is not the limiting factor for sharing and utilizing data, but legislation and ground rules need to be established quickly to create a fair data economy. The rapid development of digitalization is a challenge also for the public sector, particularly in finding expertise and keeping up with the developments.
Public sector interactions
The activities of the WP4 on public sector interactions continued with interviews with Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH). The development of networks of DIHs is one of the priorities of the EU digitalization policy. The aim of is to provide access to digital know-how and competence to enterprises and start-ups in different sectors and to facilitate the digitalization of their production and services. Some of examples of Digital Innovation Hubs include DigiCenterNS in the Northern Savo Region in Finland, Competence Network Digital Agriculture Bavaria in Germany. DigiCenterNS provides support to enterprises by offering advice, know-how, technical studies, networking for technology and knowledge transfer, R&D collaboration, and digital innovation platforms. Competence Network Digital Agriculture Bavaria is built on an open network of various stakeholders and conducts workshops, competitions, studies, etc. in order to facilitate digitalization and development of an interdisciplinary ecosystem.
PROJECT, DIGITALIZATION AND ANIMAL WELFARE RELATED EVENTS
Conference “Transformation of Agri-Food Systems – Sustainability and Digitalization of Food Value Chains”
The SustainIT team has been gearing up the dissemination activities. In April, the SustainIT team and ClearFarm project organized a session “ICT for sustainable cattle value chains” at the 51st conference of the Swiss Society for Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Sociology, the topic of which was “Transformation of Agri-Food Systems – Sustainability and Digitalization of Food Value Chains”. The current trends in agriculture and food systems are not sustainable in the long term, thus changes are needed to increase the resilience of the system and environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Digitalization is a megatrend that will radically alter the existing system. Thus, the conference tackled its potential impact and ongoing agricultural trends from various angles, incl. the impacts of biodiversity, science, plant production, risks, social impacts, food value chains, etc.
The session on “ICT for sustainable cattle value chains” was led by Dr. Ants- Hannes Viira, the SustainIT project coordinator from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, who emphasized that animal welfare and ICT are particularly timely topics as the EU Commission is in the process of revising and modernizing animal welfare legislation.
The presentations summed up SustainIT the main results from the two years of SustainIT activities. Dr. Pekka Kilpeläinen from the University of Oulu presented the main findings from the WP2 in the presentation on “Information sharing in current databases focusing on animal health and wellbeing: A benefit for sustainable value chains”. The mapping of databases done by partners indicted that the data from dairy and beef farms is collected for the databases mainly for cattle registry, breeding, and milk/production and quality monitoring purposes. The EU legislation requires that countries keep the cattle registry, monitor the use of antibiotics, and keep track of infectious diseases. Milk recording and databases for breeding purposes are commonly managed by advisory services, while databases held for product quality purposes are maintained by different stakeholders. Countries differ considerably in tracking of health data, veterinary visits, and treatments. The challenges are connected with the user-friendliness and further development of data analytics, compatibility of databases and organization of data exchange, and fairness of the data use.
Per-Ola Ulvenblad from Halmstad University discussed the SustainIT consumer survey in the presentation “What about the Customer? Exploring Consumer Response to ICT Adoption in the Livestock Sector”. The survey results indicated that sustainability and animal welfare issues are less prioritized in making food purchasing decisions, particularly in comparison with price and taste considerations and habits. Consumers in three out of four countries rated no animal disorders/diseases as the most important factor for animal health and welfare, and the consumers’ ratings are impacted by their sociodemographic characteristics. The limited use of ICT while purchasing food is impacted by the consumers’ lack of interest, lack of skills, and lack of trust in the ICT tools. At present, most consumers make their purchases in stores, but the expectations are the importance of organic shops, farms, local markets, and on-line purchasing will grow in the future.
Natascha Schlereth from the Technical University of Munich detailed the SustainIT Living Lab approach in the presentation on “Insights from a Multi-actor Living Lab Approach to ICT Implementation in the Livestock Sector”. The Living Labs are based on open innovation approach and combine transdisciplinary, iterative, multi-actor engagement for joint problem-solving. The SustainIT Living Labs bring together farmers, veterinaries, ICT providers, farm associations, the public sector, research institutions, and Digital Innovation Hubs. The project combines a twofold structure of country Living Labs for sharing and validating findings from desk studies, and expert interviews and for understanding stakeholders’ challenges and potential solutions. The Living Labs are based on SustainIT partners meetings in which cross-country data is compared, findings validated and the methodological approach to Living Labs is evaluated.
EU CAP Network Workshop “Animal welfare and innovation”
In May, the SustainIT partners from University of Oulu and Estonian Dairy Cluster participated in the EU CAP Network workshop “Animal welfare and innovation”. The workshop was a multi-stakeholder event bringing together farmers, policymakers, scientists and various other parties. The aim of the workshop was to share innovative practices, tool and opportunities related to cage-free production systems for laying hens and sows, animal welfare indicators and monitoring methods and animal welfare labelling and certification. The seminar combined discussion of EU policies, presentation of real-life good practices for inspiration, filed visits and interactive sessions engaging the participants into identifying challenges and finding solutions as well as developing ideas for future collaboration.
A more detailed report on the workshop is available at the link.
Conference “Understanding stakeholder behavior and socio-economic implications of practices and policies of animal health”
In June, the International Society for Economics and Social Sciences of Animal Health held conference “Understanding stakeholder behaviour and socio-economic implications of practices and policies of animal health” in Finland. The conference covered various topics related to economic methods and modelling, psychosocial factors related to veterinary work, consumers and farmers’ behaviours and its implication for animal welfare, technological trends, biosecurity, and policy impacts.
The presentation “Building on the old foundations: prospects for digitalization of cattle health sector” by Dr. Ants-Hannes Viira from the Estonian University of Life Sciences focused on the review of existing databases and utilizing those for promotion of animal health and welfare, and in connecting farmers and consumers. The presentation used the case of Estonian Dairy Health Management Programme. Its pilot project was run from 2017-2019 and included the identification and testing of suitable herd health protocols for dairy farms. The implementation of those and use of data made it possible to address the heard health targets, optimize animal treatment, reduce use of veterinary drugs and costs, improve animal wellbeing. Based on those results, a policy measure has been included to the Estonian CAP Strategic Plan since 2023.
Dr. Anne Põder from Estonian Dairy Cluster talked about the SustainIT consumer survey results in the presentation on “Consumer perspectives on animal welfare and food purchasing decisions: an international comparison” which looked into the differences between the four countries. The main takeaways were that the dietary habits differ. While the overall taste and low price are the main drivers in food purchasing decisions in all countries, there are significant differences in terms of various aspects related to organic production, regional production, appearance, animal welfare features, nutritional values. Purchasing decisions are affected by the consumers’ gender, age, whether the person is responsible for buying the food for households, and their dietary habits. Differences in the attitudes between the countries can be explained by the different income levels.
Seminar on Innovative Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
In the beginning of June, SustainIT team member Martin Kukk took part in a seminar ‘Fostering Innovative Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Implications for Theory and Practice’ organised by the Centre for Technology Entrepreneurship of the Technical University of Denmark. At the seminar, Martin introduced our research on the ways of harmonising the actions of EU member states with the EU’s policy of creating the Common European Agricultural Data Space. Initiating sectorial data spaces is one of the corner stones of the current European Strategy of Data. A functional Agricultural Data Space would significantly reduce the barriers of interoperability of digital services provided to the farmers. The seminar gave us an insight into ways of how our research into data spaces could be viewed from the perspective of innovation ecosystems, which we will use to further develop our approach.
Martin Kukk also introduced those findings in the presentation “Harmonising the Policy Instruments of
the European Union and its Member States to Create the Data Space for Agriculture” at the XVII Congress of the European Association of Agricultural Economists, held in August in Rennes, France.
Study on Artificial Intelligence in Agri-Food Sector
At the beginning of 2023, the European Parliament published a review on the possibilities, potential impact, and risks of artificial intelligence (AI) in the agri-food sector . The authors emphasize that data collection and availability has evolved rapidly. As thousands of data points are collected in farms daily, AI could be a useful tool that would help to manage and utilize this data as well as support the implementation of smart agriculture and the objectives that are beyond the research of human capabilities.
The study is based on the reflections of different experts. The report explains the main concepts of smart agriculture, AI, reviews the main trends in data collection in agriculture, the EU initiatives related to AI and its application, and summarizes the AI developments in different subsectors, its potential benefits in this field, challenges and risks; and then sums up the policy options for the use of simulation of AI in the agri-food sector.
Smart agriculture refers to a management concept based on maintaining and increasing agricultural productivity and food security in variable physical, chemical, climate, and socioeconomic conditions with AI being a tool that would help to achieve its objectives by data processing and transformation of the data into actionable items. The authors use the definition of AI proposed by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on AI in which “AI refers to systems designed by humans that, given a complex goal, act in the physical or digital world by perceiving their environment, interpreting the collected structured or unstructured data, reasoning on the knowledge derived from this data and deciding the best action(s) to take (according to pre-defined parameters) to achieve the given goal. AI systems can also be designed to learn to adapt their behavior by analysing how the environment is affected by their previous actions” [2, p. 7].
On one side, the animal production in EU has been impacted by intensification as the demand is expected to grow, while on the other side, environmental concerns and changes in consumer habits will restrict production. Thus, the trend will be towards increasing efficiency, animal health, and welfare, while automation and the use of AI to extract the data from various sources to support those developments. At present, a large volume of data is already being generated by modern sensor technologies, while AI algorithms have been getting more accurate and performing better than ever before. The data-producing technologies at the farms include various farm equipment (climate control, feed mixing and milking equipment, etc.), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology for animal tracking; wearable sensing technology such as welfare sensors fixed to animals; computer vision and sound monitoring technologies for health and welfare monitoring of animals; automated weighing devices.
One of the focal aims of precision livestock farming is the real-time management which would help to increase animal welfare. With AI, the farmers would not depend on the infrequent animal welfare observations or only on the data collected at the end of the production round but could adjust the conditions quickly during production to enhance animal welfare. AI technologies could also be used to detect and diagnose diseases. Some examples of technologies that have already been successfully tested include audio monitoring for respiratory health.
The authors discuss the present challenges of AI in animal production. The present diversity of farming systems is one of those challenges as the AI tools require a degree of uniformity and different layouts, operational differences and individual characteristics of the farms pose of challenge to it. Another issue is the computing power at the farm as the volume of data that needs processing is high and it is expensive for the farmers to purchase and maintain such computing resources. As the farmers’ trust in AI is essential for a successful application, design standards, procedures related to data access, etc. need to be developed before the technologies are released.
The overall challenges for the AI in the sector lie in the need for further hardware development, improvement of the availability data and the data quality, incl. the availability of large data sets with high variability and high quality, metadata, reliable labeling and interfaces, data interpretation, incl. for 3D and 4D data, decision support systems, protocols for data confidentiality and data ownership. The societal concerns related to AI use include the fairness and transparency of the systems and data use, digital literacy and data ownership, particularly the role of agricultural technology corporations, and the potential monopoly of digital tech companies. This relates to the concerns about the affordability of the data and how the storage, collection, and monetization of the data in the value chain will be organized. AI and automation will affect the farm workers, while the accountability in case of AI recommendations and potential loss of income from AI implementation has to be addressed.
For more information:
 De Baerdemaeker, J., Hemming, S., Chauhan, A., Petropoulou, A., Rovira-Más, F., Moshou, D., Wyseure, G., Norton, T., Nicolai, B., Hennig-Possenti, F., Hostens, I. (2023). Artificial Intelligence in Agri-Food Sector. Applications, risks and impacts. European Parliamentary Research Service. Brussels. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/en/document/EPRS_STU(2023)734711
 European Commission (2018). High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. A definition of AI: Main capabilities and scientific disciplines. Brussels. https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/system/files/ged/ai_hleg_definition_of_ai_18_december_1.pdf
- SustainIT Project Living Lab (PLL) on Oct. 12th and 13th in Tartu Estonia. SustainIT partners will meet at Estonian University of Life Sciences to discuss the progress of project and conduct a PLL. SustainIT is close to finishing its project activities and PLL will focus on ongoing dissemination and publishing activities, remaining Country Living Labs and evaluation of the project. Partners will also visit Estonian largest dairy cooperative and Estonian Animal Recording Centre.
- The Finnish Veterinary Congress will take place in Helsinki on November 22nd – 24th. Dr. Anri Timonen from the University of Oulu team will present SustainIT results in a presentation on the information systems on all four countries and their use and data availability from the viewpoint of a veterinarian, and on the developmental needs of stakeholders on Nov. 22nd.
- The Finnish Agricultural Science Days 2024 will be held on January 10th -11th 2024 in Helsinki, Finland. The SustainIT partnes have planned several presentations of the project results. Dr. Pekka Kilpeläinen from University of Oulu team will introduce the work done in the project with animal health databases in an abstract dealing with information systems structure, developmental needs recognized by stakeholders and significance for data economy in agriculture. Finnish results of international consumer survey on the effects of cattle health and welfare on consumers decisions to purchase milk and beef products, and on the interest of consumers in using ICT applications for information and purchasing in food shop will be presented by Elisa Tikkanen from the University of Oulu. Martin Kukk from Estonian University of Life Sciences will be presenting results from the WP4 on the public sector’s role and policies.
- EU Agri-Food Days will be held from 6th to 8th December 2023 in Brussels. The topics are the outlook of European agriculture, agricultural market trends, food security, sustainability, digital technologies.
- On Dec. 6th to 7th the EU Agricultural Outlook Conference “Sowing the future of EU Agriculture”
- On Dec. 8th Agri-Digital Conference: “A Digital Transformation for Farmers and Rural Communities for Sustainable Future”.
More information: https://agriculture.ec.europa.eu/eu-agri-food-days_en
Spotlight on project partners
Halmstad University is a public university located in West Sweden. The university was established 1982 and offers various degree programs related to teachers’ education, IT, business, engineering, health, humanities and social sciences. At present, the university has around 12 000 students and over 600 staff members. Halmstad university has a strong emphasis on multidisciplinary and applied research in collaboration with the industry. The two main focus areas are health innovation and smart cities and communities.
Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning at Halmstad University specializes in the research and expertise in innovation management, business models, business strategies, internationalization, marketing through multidisciplinary and regional lens. The SustainIT team members in Halmstad University have a long expertise in studying sustainable business models in agri-food sector, challenges related to digital transformation and circular economy.
The team members from Halmstad University are Dr. Henrik Barth, Dr. Pia Ulvenblad, Per-Ola Ulvenblad.
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)