The Oulu Region’s diverse agri-food value chains form a significant business sector for the region and beyond. For years, the region has been the largest supplier of milk and bovine meat and has had the largest area of certified organic farmland in Finland. In addition, there is one of the five seed potato production areas in Europe that have been granted the High Grade status.
Besides farming, a vast variety of raw materials for agri-food value chains are obtained from forests (non-wood forest products), as well as lakes and the Bay of Bothnia (freshwater and sea fish). Reindeer husbandry is also practiced in the northern parts of the region.
As for the food processing industry, the region has more than 200 (mainly) micro-, small- or medium-sized enterprises, a good number of which are actively looking for digitalisation and automation solutions to support both their production and managerial processes. Also in regional strategies, ICT, digitalisation and technology development play a central role with one of the objectives being the improvement of product quality verification and traceability in food value chains.
The Regional Food Strategy emphasises the importance of securing food safety, improving the use of digitalisation in the food system and boosting competitiveness by capitalising on local strengths.
The AFarCould project (ECSEL Joint Undertaking and national funding programmes, 2018-2020) provides a distributed platform for autonomous farming that will allow the integration and cooperation of agriculture Cyber Physical Systems in real-time in order to increase efficiency, productivity, animal health, food quality and reduce farm labour costs. This platform will be integrated with farm management software and will support monitoring and decision-making solutions based on big data and real time data mining techniques.
In addition, the project aims to make farming robots accessible to more users by enabling farming vehicles to work in a cooperative mesh, thus opening up new applications and ensuring reusability, as heterogeneous standard vehicles can combine their capabilities in order to lift farmer revenue and reduce labour costs.
The DEMETER project (H2020, 2019-2023) is a large-scale deployment of farmer-driven, interoperable smart farming-IoT (Internet of Things) based platforms, delivered through a series of 20 pilots across 18 countries (15 EU countries). Involving 60 partners, DEMETER adopts a multi-actor approach acrossthe value chain (demand and supply), with 25 deployment sites, 6,000 farmers and over 38,000 devices and sensors being deployed.
The purpose of the regional FoodWay project (ERDF, 2020-2021) is to advance the traceability and safety of food value chains in cooperation with regional, national and EU-level actors and networks. The project will (1) model the region’s food production value chains in relation to traceability and food safety monitoring by way of pilot activities, (2) produce information on commercial and potential future technological solutions relevant to various stages and needs of the region’s food production value chains, (3) enhance communication of product origin and other product-attribute information to consumers, and (4) activate the region’s food companies to participate in activities of the EU-level Smart Specialisation Platform for Agrifood.
The regional Labrobot project (ERDF, 2016-2020) creates a unique innovation environment with the goal of automating routine laboratory tasks and enabling real-time data analysis to provide for proactive process control activities. The goals are achieved by combining data management, computer vision, sensoring, robotics, biotechnology and food chain product solutions in an interdisciplinary way.
The regional RUOKARIIHI project (ERDF, 2019-2021) promotes the use of ICT and other technologies in the food sector, increases networking and cooperation between companies within and beyond the food sector, and promotes the internationalisation and export activities of food businesses. The project was preceded by the ELYKE project (Needs of Food Companies in Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland / EAFRD, 2017-2019) that looked into the present state and future development needs and priorities of the region’s food companies, as well as activated the sector’s business activities and cooperation both between companies and with support service organisations.
The objectives of the Seafood Age project (Interreg Atlantic Area, 2019-2022) include designing smart predictive labels to aid retailers to reduce food waste while optimising quality and safety and to support ageing consumers to make better-informed RTE seafood choices, as well as developing competencies for innovation and accelerating the pace of embedding the circular economy principles into the seafood sector. In the preceding Smart-Fish project (Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic, 2015-2018), a Smart-Label System was developed to monitor and track sensitive goods during transportation. In addition, a service for collecting and presenting data from the electronic labels was provided.
The regional VASTE project (ERDF, 2017-2020) demonstrates a new service platform, which increases overall energy efficiency of logistics in different sectors. The goal of the project is to reduce GHG between 30% to 60% from the present level. The agrifood sector is one of the project’s target sectors.
The RDI actors of the Oulu Region are continuously preparing regional, national and international RDI project applications and looking for opportunities to join project consortiums with the aim of advancing digitalisation of the agrifood value chains.