Global agriculture mainly relies on fossil resources for covering most of its energy needs and supporting agricultural productivity in both open-field crop production and controlled environment agricultural constructions. The high fossil fuel use and the deterioration of natural carbon sinks have been related with the anthropogenic impact causing climate change. Novel technologies and strategies related to more sustainable energy production and use have been developed by industry and research entities.
However, in the agricultural sector there is still an important gap between such developments and the actual adoption and use of the available tools and practices by the EU farmers, especially for this large number of small and medium producers with limited access to information.
To tackle this issue, the AgroFossilFree project was launched in 2020 by the Centre for Research and Technology–Hellas (CERTH), project Coordinator, together with 15 other partners from 9 EU countries (IR, NL, DE, DK, PL, ES, IT, BE and EL), with the aim of creating a framework under which critical stakeholders will cooperate to evaluate and promote the currently available Fossil-Energy-Free Technologies and Strategies (FEFTS) in EU agriculture.
The AgroFossilFree project will contribute to the High Level EU Strategies (i.e. EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy) as it aims to decrease the use of fossil energy in any farming process from cradle-to-farm gate, while maintaining yield and quality of the end-product. It will also contribute in closing the gap between the available FEFTS with the everyday EU agricultural practices by promoting effective exchange of novel ideas and information between research, industry, extension and the farming community.
Teagasc are the Irish partners in the AgroFossilFree” project. Barry Caslin, Teagasc Renewable Energy Specialist said; “We need to improve our energy security by reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels. At individual farm level, investment in renewable energy will reduce the high cost of energy inputs and can also provide an additional source of income for the business. AgroFossilFree is a valuable research project in creating such awareness of the benefits of renewable technologies in farm businesses, and the European contacts and links made here will help Teagasc to develop our future strategy on renewables.”
He said; “The next few years will see a dramatic uptake in renewable energy generation on farms. AgroFossilFree will provide a good opportunity to review existing technologies. Irish energy policy is heavily tied to European legislation, I am confident that renewable energy opportunities driven by a policy framework will open new opportunities in Irish agriculture. Ireland’s Climate Action Plan has developed a path on carbon-reduction initiatives and global policy drivers such as the Paris agreement on climate change is forcing such changes in the way we both produce and use energy”.
Tom Houlihan, Teagasc Forestry Specialist said; “The AgroFossilFree project provides great opportunities to develop collaborations across Europe on ways to optimise and promote energy efficiency within the agrifood sector and wider bioeconomy. All project partners are aligned on the need to decrease dependencies on fossil fuels and on the benefits of a multi-actor approach. Innovations in both the agriculture and forestry sectors have important roles to play. Teagasc looks forward to working with many partners, facilitating knowledge exchange and sharing resultant information, research and technologies with all stakeholders including farmers and forest owners in Ireland.”
The AgroFossilFree project, a 3-year collaborative Coordination and Support Action (CSA) funded with €2 million by the EU from the Horizon 2020 programme, will evaluate the current status in EU agriculture regarding energy use and assess existing needs, allowing farmers to optimize agricultural production through more efficient energy use and reduced Greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in economic, agronomic and environmental benefits. It will specifically create an AgEnergy Platform containing all available FEFTS and a Decision Support Toolkit to propose interventions and financing tools based on user inputs. The project will also create policy recommendations and communicate them to increase visibility and promote the proposed strategies and technologies. Financing opportunities for de-fossilizing EU agriculture will also be investigated and highlighted.
AgroFossilFree is based on a “Multi Actor Approach”, including in the consortium not only scientists and researchers, but also extension service providers, farmers’ organizations and industrial partners from 9 countries (i.e. innovation “hubs”), which ensures that the end-users of FEFTS innovations are well represented. The diversity of cropping systems and agro-climatic zones covered by the innovation “hubs” will allow exploring the adoption and applicability of a wide range of FEFTS solutions, while capturing a wealth of needs and innovations from end-users across Europe.
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