Main visual representing Crack Sense's interview with fruit production authority.

Spotlight on: Science Perspective on Digital Agriculture in Fruit Production

EXPERT IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Nenad Magazin, PhD, is a university professor and expert in the field of fruit production and fruit postharvest at the Faculty of Agriculture in Novi Sad, Serbia. His position as a Vice dean for the development and cooperation with business sector has provided him with a unique perspective on fruit production and major challenges in digital agriculture development, as well as solution uptake by the local and European agricultural sector.

TOPIC IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The agricultural sector is rapidly being transformed in the past two decades, faced with old and newly emerging challenges, such as population growth, climate instability, digital insecurity, withstanding global economic crises and driven by fast-paced digitalization. The pressing need for innovative and sustainable approaches to food production is profoundly changing the hundreds of years old agriculture practices towards more resilient, safer and transparent alternatives. Scientific approach and innovation are still the main driving forces of European innovation and yet, the knowledge transfer from academic high tower to farmers and fields is facing numerous challenges.

Firstly, thank you for accepting the invitation to contribute with your expertise to this pressing topic. Please, provide us with a summary of your background, work, and participation in the agrifood sector.

I am a university professor of fruit growing at University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Agriculture, tightly connected with agro-production sector. Apart from being involved in production and services that are offered to business sector from experimental farms of the Faculty, I often contribute to this sector through studies, elaborates, consultancy and knowledge transfer through workshops.

Certainly, knowledge transfer represents a major driver of innovation. How do you see science and the economy jointly pushing toward a brighter food production perspective?

The economy is oriented to gaining more income and profits while science can strongly support this process through applicable findings and problems solutions. A brighter future is based on sustainable and environmentally acceptable solutions offered from science to the economy.

“Digital agriculture can only produce digital products. For real food, we still need farms and farmers.”

Surely, the academic community has a lot to contribute to the public. One of the major knowledge transfers aside from scientific output is start-up initiation. However, start-ups seem to require substantial public and investment support. What do you consider to be the optimal pathways to support startups and scaleup launching from an academic perspective?

Startups often do not understand larger companies, establishments and institutions, that is, they do not trust them to be able to realize the ideas that are the basis of their establishment. I think that you should give your good ideas a chance and stand behind those startups through recommendations and letters of support.

Food production globally is facing numerous challenges. What kind of development of agrifood in the coming years in Serbia do you anticipate?

More specialization, production of higher-value final products, association of small producers, introduction of new technologies that replace the workforce, but inevitably also a decline in the number of entities in this sector, negative impact of climate change.

Digitalization is at the ever-growing momentum across multiple sectors. What kind of new technologies do you see emerging with the agrifood sector in the coming years?

New technologies are being developed in three directions: technologies that collect and process information and provide services based on IT technologies, technologies that replace missing labour and technologies that protect production from external factors, i.e., enable fully or partially controlled production, independent of climate and soil.

Consumers in Europe are inclined towards more informed decision-making when it comes to food consumption. What trends do you see in consumer behaviour?

Consumers are overwhelmed with information, often very inaccurate, and they cannot assess the truth of the information and make wrong decisions when buying food. With the increase in standards, the trend of demand for organic food and domestic autochthonous products is growing. In the future, the consumption of meat will decrease, while the demand for and consumption of alternative sources of protein, as well as fruits and vegetables from the “superfood” category, will increase.

Euoropean digitalisation in agriculture is progressing onward, with clear advantages and setbacks. Increased productivity, resource efficiency, market competitiveness, sustainability, food safety and transparency present major driving forces for majority of different stakeholders – scientists, industry officials, farmers, policy makers and consumers. Nevertheless, it is crucial to address the setbacks and challenges that arise along the way. Clear guidelines and strong support are needed when it comes to knowledge transfer from academia and scientific powerhouses into the realm of start-ups and scale-ups, industry, and end-user uptake. 

This is one of the pilar goals in the CrackSense project, which aims not only to bring relevant fruit cracking solution and publicly available decision-making support platform, but also to develop suitable and sustainable business plans for all the project results and to ensure longevity after the project ends.

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