Demonstration case two (Spain): The use of digital information flows in the agri-food sector


Demonstration case two: The use of digital information flows in the agri-food sector

An overview of demonstration case two, which took place in Spain and focused on developing a digital farm book that would be beneficial for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food and farmers and their advisors.

Demonstration case two took place in Spain and was conducted by Spanish Co-ops in collaboration with the Cuatro Rayas cooperative and five of its farmers. Throughout the process, we also benefit from the support of our colleagues at ITACYL.

The goal was to develop a digital farm book connected to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (the administration) via an application programming interface (API). Mandatory information is shared with the administration through the publication of several Royal Decrees. This took place in December 2022. 

In addition, the project team integrated various data streams (e.g., Earth observation services, in-situ detection networks, and farm-level data) into a Geographic Information System (GIS) to help overcome the information access constraints often experienced in the agricultural sector, which is a highly fragmented sector influenced by various factors.

Building a farm book 

So far, the project team has been working on ensuring the farm book meets the information requirements set by the administration. The next step is to improve user experience. The first stable version is expected to be released in March 2023, after which it will be tested and validated by the Cuatro Rayas cooperative advisory services and some of its members.

The regulation framework has already been published, however, the administration has yet to approve the farm book's mandatory content. For this reason, data belonging to Cuatro Rayas’ farmers from previous years are being used instead. By using this data, the team has been able to design and develop easy-to-use and automated GIS dashboards which allow participants to easily learn how to manipulate and interpret the data with little effort.


Data dilemmas and technological challenges

The main challenge for the demonstration case has been the delay in obtaining accurate information on the mandatory data sent by farmers, as the approval process for the regulation has taken longer than expected. This has completely altered the whole development timeline, meaning the digital farm book will require significant development over the final months of the project to adjust it to the policy demands and incorporate the needs of the farmers (the validation process).

Another major challenge was the advisory services and farmers' lack of knowledge on digital technologies. Therefore, designing agronomical services training into the management of Geographic Information Systems was something that became necessary for the success of the demonstration case, since many of them were not familiar with this type of tools. Despite this challenge, discussing the benefits and working on a collaborative vision has been a very satisfactory process for both parties, and the training was well received by most.

The future of monitoring and evaluation in the EU

Simplifying the way we record and report on agricultural activities directly impacts the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This digital farm book will capture the information required by the administration supporting them in designing agricultural policies. Furthermore, the farm book is not limited to one territory or sector. On the contrary, it is fully scalable and adaptable, allowing for information on agricultural activity to be systematised, for differences and similarities between regions to be identified, and for resource use to be optimised.

Spain has been the first country in the EU to make it mandatory for farmers to send farm-level data in a digital format. This new enforcement aims to improve monitoring and evaluation in order to achieve the goals set out in the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy, through a new efficient and digitalised process. This practice is expected to begin in most EU countries in the years to come. Thus, the experiences and outcomes of this demonstration case could be very useful for the adoption of similar regulations in other EU countries. 

In particular, the project aimed to enable agri-food cooperative members (farmers) and their advisors to monitor their performance and ensure alignment with the policy demands (mainly based on the Farm to Fork Strategy). This is relevant since valuable information return mechanisms are generated for the farmers, who are the ones that own and provide the data. 

Presentations and discussions at the National Workshop in Spain

On 26 January 2023, the national workshop for demonstration case two took place during the Agricultural Fair of Valladolid (AGRARIA) in Spain. Approximately 250 people attended, among which 56% were agricultural advisors, 24% farmers, 7% agri-tech, 5% university staff and 5% from the Spanish administration.

The ITACYL partners presented an overview of the project, the results so far, a brief introduction of the other demonstration cases, and the challenges ahead. During the session, several topics were discussed, including the experience of Cuatro Rayas' farmers, any barriers they identified, the advantages of the new tools, and the different uses of the data captured. In addition, a fruitful dialogue was held with the event attendees on the challenges posed by the digitalization of agriculture in Spain. 

An interactive survey was used to ask the audience about how they, as farmers or advisory services, were filling in farm books at present. 40% of the audience responded on an Excel sheet, while 20% used a digital application and only 14% used paper.  

Regarding the drivers to adopt a digital farm book, the most voted for “law enforcement”, followed by “digital transformation of the farm” and the “improvement of the advisory services”. On the other side, the major barrier identified by the participants for its adoption was the “administrative burden”, followed by the “lack of training in digital technologies” and the “average age of the farmers”. 

If you would like more information read the Lessons Learnt brief