CAP Reform – “Rural Jobs” should mean more than farm jobs

VirtualVet is an agtech start-up operating from a family farm. Our aim is to create high quality rural jobs offering a compliance support service to farmers and data collection service to the wider agri-food and animal health industries. To make our vision a reality, a few things are required: Internet connectivity & government agencies to fully embrace the potential of digital technology and the concept of data sharing. There is a wealth of innovation and  creativity in rural areas; and there are a lot of important food safety and environmental protection services which need to be developed for farmers.

Prof Alan Matthews, in a recent blog on CAP reform presented some practical and sensible measures to promote rural jobs, of which the following, in particular, caught the eye:

“Preventing unfair practices where they occur and ensuring an equitable distribution of value added and risk along the food supply chain is yet another example.”

In our case, VirtualVet reduces the risks of failed compliance for medicines recording errors during farm audits and inspections. We reduce the risks of food contamination from on-farm medicines along the agri-food value chain. This service is valuable to the wider agri-food and animal health industries. We offer our services free to farmers, taking away a stress and replacing it with a supportive service. We sell access to the required information to the appropriate agencies and organisations on behalf of the farmer. So far, the four  members of staff have three MBAs and one BA. We interviewed a fifth member of staff this week, willing to start work next month after final exams in her Masters of International Business. All are happy to work on a farm – albeit from the comfort of an office in the farmhouse!

We are by no means an exception nor an anomaly. We are just one of hundreds and thousands of potential employers in rural areas across Europe dedicated to serving and protecting farming, food and the environment.  But for CAP to really contribute to the growth of high skilled rural jobs, and sustainable agriculture, DG AGRI must work with the Digital Agenda, with the Circular Economy priorities and, in our case, with DG SANTE on the implementation of the new Animal Health Law.  The digital economy offers the data flow regulations required for companies like ours. DG SANTE needs the competent authorities in member states to embrace near real-time surveillance.

The future is bright for rural economies if the bright lights are allowed to shine!

I strongly advise those interested to invest twenty minutes and contribute to the CAP Reform consultation here.

Farm Data Ownership Debate – Buried in Bratislava

Earlier this month I was one of the lucky ones chosen to attend the excellent EIP Agri Data Sharing Workshop in Bratislava. Within an hour the  “data ownership” question was skillfully re-framed to “data  controller & data processor” roles, and the relationship between these roles.

For VirtualVet this validated our entire approach and methodology. We have long believed that “ownership” and the notions of defense or protection it excites, prevent farmers and the wider value chain from benefiting fully from vitally important information and knowledge. Instead, we believe and are implementing a relationship model, where farmers control their data, explicitly instructing us, the processor, on how to use their data for their benefit.

Data Silos in Livestock Farming

This is an exciting time in the digital agriculture space. Farmers and the quality of data are moving to the centre of every conversation. VirtualVet believes they should always have been at the centre, but it took a while for the technologists and IoT craze to mature past pure data harvesting and in to a service oriented industry.  The use of agricultural data and the importance of farmers’ information and knowledge is well described in Copa Cogeca’s guidelines, but more needs to be done to promote their acceptance. For their part, the EU Commission is developing policy and setting out priorities which support and promote the  use of digital data and information in the wider agri-food, animal health and rural economy.

The workshop in Bratislava was a successful bringing together by EIP -Agri of diverse group of actors willing to accept that perhaps “data ownership” is too prescriptive a notion. While it was accepted that certain industry players and data generators may be more reluctant than others to embrace the move from ownership to control/process, there were enough positive and concrete steps forward identified to make us hopeful that existing silos will be broken down through the informed and transparent sharing of digitised data between stakeholders for a fair value.

At VirtualVet, our data driven business model is taking these important steps forward and we are willing to work with others to speed up the progress for all.