In the Dutch region Limburg, the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo and the Brightlands Smart Services Campus cooperate on Digitisation of the Agrifood. Limburg stakeholders find that human interconnectivity is still the essence of innovation. Participating in INTERREG Europe project Regions4Food has improved the Limburg performance level.

Two ladies involved at enhancing the possibilities of smart ICT, contemplate:

What would our daily business look like, if COVID 19 had hit us a decade ago? This was a question that Saskia Goetgeluk, and me, Annemiek Canjels, discussed a few days ago. After all, imagine how we would have managed to stay connected, exchange information, meet and negotiate and more, without the tools we have today and learned to master so quickly. Could we have survived without our Zooms, MS Teams, our online break-out rooms and shared files? And we wondered: where will we be in another decade? What will be the key success factors?

What would our daily business look like, if COVID 19 had hit us a decade ago?

Digitisation, the magic word! I worked at IBM before I started working for the regional authority. I am not an ICT expert, but I have seen how it has evolved over 35 years and what it contributed. So when the S3 platform added the topic Agrofood in 2016, I immediately raised my hand and made my region Limburg join the Traceability and Big Data platform (T&BD). Next, we attended T&BD conferences about emerging intelligence and technology and about the importance of interconnectivity.

And when my region was invited to join the INTERREG Europe project Regions4Food (R4F), we gladly accepted.

With 7 R4F partners creating regional agro-ICT communities, exchanging knowledge and best practices at EU-level, writing Action Plans and drafting Strategic Policy Recommendations, we have made great progress. The key lesson learnt is the importance of the human factor. The mere fact that the partners enjoy helping each other, that people in my region started to interconnect; farmers, developers of grow tech, developers of apps and dashboards, universities and the Brightlands business developers; it has already lead to most valuable innovations and projects before R4F was even half way. Allow me to mention two recent projects:

Our regional stakeholder Fontys Green Tech Lab will start “L.INT”, a lectorate on intelligence that will focus on enabling entrepreneurs to turn new knowledge and prototypes into daily farming practice.

A second recent initiative is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Academy hub focusing on transferring knowledge about Data Science and AI methodology on the topics of agriculture, logistics and manufacturing to the entrepreneurs.

So, to get back to our contemplation.

Clearly, Human Intelligence, that is where it all comes from. No computer can yet match the possibilities, creativity and ability to connect data like the human brain. But what if our capacity to remember, uptake and process data is limited? What about the future of AI in agriculture? We concluded that there is a need to balance opportunities and responsibilities. What data do we really have to store and what data contribute little or nothing, whilest using massive amounts of climate threatening energy?

What about the future of AI in agriculture?

When is AI helpful and when is it replacing valuable human skills, such as doing math or operating a complex machine in a complex environment? When do we fully rely on algorithms and when do we include live common sense in a system? These are probably the issues were the term Intelligence Augmented (IA) comes to the table: it combines human and machine intelligence. So, besides AI, IA is what the future should look like and this is what our Brightlands R&D&I projects already reflect. And we are keen to continue cooperating with partners from all over Europe. Because as we have already learned from R4F, you may travel faster on your own, but together we move much further!

Saskia Goetgeluk is the CEO of the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo, working on “Healthy Food, Future Farming and Circular Food Systems”

Annemiek Canjels is a Senior Policy Adviser working for the Department of Economy and Innovation at Province Limburg and partner-contact for INTERREG Europe project Regions 4Food