CropLife Europe Annual Conference 2024 Review

Last week, Enviresearch’s Scott Watson made the journey from Newcastle to Brussels to attend the CropLife Europe Annual Conference. Looking back at the event upon returning home, Scott has been sharing his thoughts on the two-day conference which focussed on “Envisioning Tomorrow’s Agriculture: Building the Toolbox”. Read below for an overview of some of Scott’s takeaway messages from the conference:

The CropLife Europe Annual Conference 2024 featured a comprehensive agenda covering a wide range of topics geared towards looking at the future of agriculture in Europe and how industry stakeholders, policy makers, and regulators can come together to equip farmers with the tools necessary to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population in a sustainable manner. A selection of the topics addressed during the two days included digital and precision agriculture, use of biotechnology for agriculture, and views and updates on the implementation of Regulation 1107/2009 for plant protections products in the EU. This summary only touches on the breadth of topics addressed over the two days. For those interested in a more in depth look at the full range of discussions covered, the CropLife Europe team have helpfully made the conference presentations available online here.

Innovation was a key theme throughout the conference with several presentations underscoring the progress made in different sectors towards developing new technologies to support future food production. The discussions also highlighted challenges needing to be addressed to translate these innovations into viable commercial products that are adopted for widescale use. One highlight was Dr. Jonas Schartner’s presentation on the work of the European Precision Application Task Force (EUPAF), looking into how precision application technologies can be integrated into the authorization processes for PPPs, addressing tasks including cataloguing of available application technologies, and exploring how to assess and manage environmental and human health risks associated with of pesticide application using these technologies. Jelte Wiersma of the European Agricultural Machinery Association (CEMA) spoke about advancements in agricultural machinery, emphasizing the smart, precision technologies that have been developed and will provide farmers with valuable data insights to facilitate more informed decision making and quicker in field actions with respect to crop management. Additionally, Professor Dirk Inze of Ghent University discussed gene editing and its potential to create pest-resistant crop varieties, improve crop yields, and enhance food quality. The consensus around these technologies was that realising their full potential will require effective regulatory frameworks that foster conditions for innovation, as well as collaboration between industry, policy makers and regulators to support adoption.

On the need for effective regulatory frameworks, Maria Grazia of Syngenta, Manuela Tiramani of EFSA and Mark Williams of the European Commission discussed the current state of play with the implementation of Regulation 1107/2009, particularly regarding active substance approvals and renewals. The decline in available active substances due to expirations, withdrawals and non-renewals was noted, with the session reporting 136 active substances that were originally approved under the Regulation were no longer being approved. Looking at new active substances being brought to market, Mark Williams also highlighted the increasing number of new active substance applications for biopesticides over the previous decade, with 76 applications currently pending in the approvals system, including 32 microbial substances and a small number of new active substances innovations including peptides, RNAi, and bacteriophages.

The challenges surrounding the implementation of Regulation 1107/2009 were, perhaps not surprisingly, a point of discussion throughout the conference. In his presentation, Mark Williams referred back to the European Commission’s REFIT Report (2020) on Regulation 1107/2009, which concluded the regulation is effective in protecting human health and the environment, suggesting that improved implementation is needed rather than an overhaul of the regulation itself. The need for effective implementation of the regulation clearly resonated with conference participants, being cited in several discussions over the two days, including the challenges bringing plant protection products to market stemming from delays in regulatory decisions being made, poor transparency of the regulatory processes, and the ongoing uncertainty and lack of predictability in approval and authorisation processes.

At the close of the conference, CropLife Europe’s Director General, Olivier de Matos, emphasized “dialogue” as one of the reoccurring themes he picked up over the two days. Indeed, the conference showcased the extensive efforts in various sectors to create new technologies that can equip farmers with the tools needed for sustainable food production. But for Europe to truly embrace and adopt these technologies the message was the need for industry stakeholders, policymakers and regulators need to work together to ensure we have policies and regulatory frameworks that are sufficiently flexible and effective to promote innovation, implemented effectively and efficiently to enable timely and science-lead decisions, and provide industry stakeholders with transparency and predictability. Parties must also to work together to promote knowledge transfer when it comes to introduction of new technologies for farmers to support widescale adoption that can help achieve a thriving, competitive and sustainable agriculture sector for Europe.

Whilst it is clear that there are many challenges still to address to ensure farmers are supported with the tools they need for future sustainable crop production, the wealth of work showcased at the conference alongside the appetite and dedication of the speakers, panellists and delegates to realise these aspirations saw myself leaving the conference with a sense of optimism.