"Agriculture 4.0" for the launch of the economy in the greenest European region

Exports in the agri-food sector represent a key sector for Abruzzo to relaunch the local economy. Moreover, there is great evidence of positive export data in the agri-food sector in Abruzzo, which, according to last relevant data (source: SACE), had an increase of 5.87 % on an annual basis in the year 2020, for a value of 607 million Euro, to the average decrease of 6.21% for other industrial and commercial sectors.

In order to maintain the competitiveness of the sector and strengthen the trend of growth, it is truly important to recognize value to innovation and new technologies in the supply chain, as they can bring benefits in terms of efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability. We are talking about "Agriculture 4.0", which refers to an advanced system of agriculture that applies the most modern web technologies connected to the various phases of working.

Abruzzo can take great advantage of this system, as it allows to enhance the excellence of agri-food, optimize the production and quality of products, reduce business costs and minimize the environmental impacts and consumption of water and fuel. Thanks to technology applied to agriculture, the recovery process of the most rural areas and difficult to be cultivated is strengthen.

In this context, regional policy has developed its own strategy towards digitalization, hosting specific projects related to Agriculture 4.0. Those projects create synergies between the public and private sectors (an admirable example in this direction is the Project "Pegasus - Agriculture for the future", headed by the 'Technical Institute State Agricultural "C. Ridolfi" of Scerni (Chieti), together with Netf Drone, the Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy and other top-level companies in the sector). Another example on this sector could be given by the project of data synchronization on Sian (National Agricultural Information System) inaugurated in 2020 by the Regional Department of Agriculture and which aims to create a regional database and two Phone Apps to protect the characteristic of the products from Abruzzo, approaching the producer closer to the final consumer and contributing to the promotion of regional high-quality agricultural production.

In this context, it is clear that investments in the innovation sector, strengthening the knowledge, protection and quality of products, can help to implement exports towards new markets such as China - today the world’s leading importer of agri-food products, having surpassed the EU and the US in 2019 - which, however, in 2020, represented, again according to SACE data only Eur. 7,19 million, which is a negligible amount on the total value of Abruzzo’s agri-food exports.

In this sense, public contributions to support this innovation process are very important. With particular reference to the Italian system, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan allocates approximately 500 million euros of the grants of the Plan for the period 2022 - 2025 to projects for the modernisation of agricultural machinery. Specifically, farmers can benefit from the measure "Transition 4.0" (also called super-depreciation) for the purchase of capital goods for work with a tax credit, but also from the measure "New Sabatini", the new facility made available by the Ministry of Economic Development which supports investments to purchase or to lease machinery, equipment, plant, goods for productive use.

The main goal of this process in favor of innovation, deeply felt by the final consumer, is the return to a discovery of the origins and the truest flavors, by reducing pesticides and increasing the area devoted to organic farming, in line with the objectives of the European Green Pact.

Technology 4.0 and return to origins are not opposing terms. Technology, in fact, is not the end in itself to rediscover and to guarantee the quality of the product. The innovation processes of Italian companies that have decided to invest abroad, specifically in China, go in this direction, including the CNH Industrial, a leading Italian company in the agricultural machinery sector, which in 2021 won the ASABE innovation prize or Valagro, an Abruzzese company active in the research, development and marketing of biostimulants and other nutritional specialities for crops, being present in China and that has recently inaugurated a cutting-edge hub for innovation in agriculture.

China is also one of the countries that is investing more in the sector because it needs to increase its productivity levels, given that, on the one hand, nowadays only 15% of the Chinese territory, due to its particular geography, is considered cultivable, and on the other hand, last year imports of agricultural products (soya, first and foremost) exceeded exports by almost 3 to 1.

In this sense, important opportunities for cooperation can also be found in the fields of applied research, with possible exchanges between Abruzzo and Chinese universities. Take in particular of the University of Teramo, which boasts a center of excellence in the agro-biological field and which already cooperates with the prestigious Jiao Tong University in Shanghai.

In conclusion, both locally and internationally, the importance of 4.0 agriculture is undeniable. For Abruzzo there are good opportunities for investment and cooperation, which can further push export, research and thus redevelop goods and territories in support of their local economy.