We live in digital society. This is evidenced by the extensive use of information
technology in all spheres of life. Digital Society is not just a technology, but a
comprehensive social organization, where the information and its exchange play a major
In this article, we present successes of Estonia’s digital agenda and argue for coordinated
farmer-centered actions for digitization of agriculture at the EU level.
Main Principles of e-Estonia
Conscious and systematic development of digital society is a strategic choice of Estonia
since 1994. When Estonian political and technical leadership began laying the foundation
for e-Estonia, it decided on certain principles:
Decentralization. There’s no central database, and every stakeholder, be it a government
department, a ministry, or a business, gets to choose its own system in its own time.
Interconnectivity. All the elements in the system have to be able to work together
Open platform. Any institution can use the public key infrastructure.
Open-ended process. As a continuous project to keep growing and improving organically.
e-Estonia is Based on X-Road and e-ID
The two key ingredients in the infrastructure are the X-Road and e-Identity or e-ID.
The mandatory national e-ID card serves as the digital access card for all of Estonia’s
e-services, including digital signature, while maintaining the highest level of security
The X-Road is a critical tool that connects all the decentralized components of the
system together. It’s the environment that allows the nation’s various databases and
registers, both in the public and private sector, to link up and operate in harmony,
no matter what platform they use.
X-Road is the all-important connection between these databases, the tool that allows
them to work together for maximum impact. All of the Estonian e-solutions that use
multiple databases use X-Road. All outgoing data from the X-Road are digitally signed
and encrypted. All incoming data are authenticated and logged.
Originally, X-Road was a system used for making queries to the different databases.
Now, it has developed into a tool that can also write to multiple databases, transmit
large data sets, and perform searches across several databases (1).
e-Estonia in Agriculture
Estonian farmers as all Estonian citizens benefit from the usage of e-services. According
to a study on the impact of e-services in Estonia (2), users find that the e-services
have helped them to save a lot of time, made communication with the government more
accessible and easier and have reduced possible errors. For example, time spent on
applying for agricultural subsidies at Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information
Board decreased from 300 min (filling in forms on paper) to 45 min by filling in an
online application. Also, in Estonia, there have been no significant delays in paying
out the subsidies. In general, users have saved the most time with e-services, which
means that they no longer have to visit various government agencies nor obtain information
from a previously separate information system.
Estonian farmers are keen to use new technologies, both in crop and animal husbandry
sectors and the benefit of this usually do not raise any doubts. The most significant
samples of digital agriculture in Estonia are following.
Geographical Information Applications
The Estonian public institutions have made serious efforts to develop the GIS systems.
Thanks to the X-Road, all the systems are interconnectible and easily combinable via
application programming interface (APIs). For example, as the databases of Estonian
Land Board, E-Land Register, and Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board
are interconnected, it is easy to find lots of information about any location in Estonian
mainland, such as cadastral register number, intended land use, soil type, protected
area restrictions, land owner, land user, etc. Unlike in many other countries, these
data are open and accessible to public, as the trust and security is assured by access
with e-ID. Additionally, the GPS technology enables to track the location and movement
of tractors and other mobile machinery, so it is possible to gain full information
about activities that are allowed and carried out in this location, also the level
of productivity, etc.
Many of these data are practically used in operations of web and mobile applications
that are developed for farm management, like VitalFields, eAgronom, Terake.eu. Using
these apps has saved substantial amount of time for farmers from paperwork, as filling
the fieldbook and compliance reporting for the payment agency are now automatized.
Currently, developers focus to real-time data transfer from agricultural machinery
into accounting without interim reporting. This would enable significant savings from
data processing and more operative access to necessary information for farm management.
Livestock Performance Recording
In Estonia, the percentage of performance recording of dairy cattle is one of the
highest in the world (95% in 2015), approaching rapidly to 100%. Performance recording
enables access to data, which is necessary precondition for dairy farm management.
Estonian Livestock Performance Recording Ltd. (ELPR) has created very innovative applications
for dairy farmers, which monitor dairy production, milk quality, and animal fertility
indicators. Producers can input their data via web application, in particular, Vissuke
for dairy, Possu for pigs (3). The databases of Livestock Performance Recording Ltd.
are interconnected with Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board, which
enables to synchronize the registration of changes in herd without doubling data entry
and minimizes the possible errors. Most of Estonian producers use the ELPR database
also for recording herd movement in the accountancy of their enterprises (4).
Project “Application of Performance Measurement System for More Informed Decision-Making
and Increased Efficiency of Production Process at Dairy Farms”
Estonian University of Life Sciences and Estonian Animal Breeders Association have
launched a joint project, whose aim is to create a possibility for managers and specialists
of dairy farms for benchmarking efficiency of the production process. A special database
is created for the project, where participating enterprises enter information about
their expenditure and revenues, feed use, and herd movement. Data from ELPR databases
are copied automatically in order to avoid double entries. On the basis of these data,
the performance metrics (KPI’s) are calculated, which serve as basis for the benchmarking.
One of the project’s main keywords is promptness—data are collected monthly and feedback
of the ongoing month’s results is available within 2 months. The time lag compared
to getting results from enterprise’s own accountancy is only few weeks. Another significant
novelty is the use of Qlik Sense, one of the leading Business Intelligence software
packages for analyzing the results. Business Intelligence is highly topical in software
development nowadays as it helps to process big data into applicable metrics and reports.
Considering the amount of data and limited resources available for average agricultural
enterprise, the use of Business Intelligence software might become highly important
in the nearest future.
Technology Only is Not a Solution, Data are Not an Information
The use of technology combined with digital transformation can help farmers to achieve
targets in increasing effectiveness and productivity, and to respond to dynamic markets.
Nevertheless, the main question is, how to implement digital technologies, and use
information produced in the farm management in a most efficient way. Paradoxically,
while there are more and more data available to farmers, there are fewer and fewer
resources (including management and workforce) to process these data, often because
of tense economic and market situation. Solution could be provided by proper guidance
and advisory services, but also by using DSS (decision support systems), which would
liberate farmers from resource consuming data processing.
Open Data, Interoperability, and Standardization are Crucial
A farm produces many types of data from diverse sources and format. When data are
heterogeneous, it is frequently organized in data silos and ends up being separated
from other data. Data silos can be created by private companies, public databases,
or between states. For small countries like Estonia, avoiding generating data silos
at the level of EU Member States is especially important in order to be competitive.
Open data, interoperability, and standardization are crucial to avoid data silos.
It is also vital to guarantee free access for farmers to public databases. In Estonia,
there are well-developed interoperability and interconnectivity between state level
Geographic Information systems, but there is still a long way to go to fully open
data (5). Interoperability between private companies mostly does not yet exist. For
example, data produced in the tractor’s computer are currently not accessible for
third parties for using it in different applications as it is protected by license
of tractor manufacturer. In case of change, the technology provider, it is impossible
to transfer the previous data into new technology. Farmers should be granted appropriate
and easy access and be able to retrieve their own data further down the line. They
also should not be restricted should they wish to use their data in other systems.
Access and data portability should be addressed at EU level, as the farmers, who are
often SME-s, might easily be run over in the negotiations with big technology companies.
Common understanding of data portability at EU level would also encourage independent
software development besides of big technology companies, which would be more flexible
and better meet farmers’ needs.
Details of Data Ownership Must be Discussed Further
Copa-Cogeca, the umbrella organization of EU farmers and agri-cooperatives, have stated
that data produced on the farm or during farming operations should be owned by the
farmers themselves (6). Farmers must have full control of the use of their personal
and private data, also in case when private data can be identifiable in the further
data processing. Ownership of aggregated data poses still many unanswered questions,
like where exactly is the borderline between “raw” data from individual farm and the
new knowledge processed with a specific methodology or algorithm? What to do in the
situation when farmer would like to remove the data of his/her farm from the system?
How to share the revenue obtained from the aggregated data between the original source
(farmer) and the data processor company? These issues need to be discussed further
in details with all the potentially interested parts, and common agreement would be
favored, preferably at the EU level within the data sharing code of conduct, or coherent
strategy of digitalization.
Digitalization Simplifies the EU Common Agricultural Policy
Apart from filling in the applications and reporting for agricultural subsidies online,
an increased use of digitalization, remote sensing, and ICT would improve efficiency,
quality, and timeliness of controls and audits. Nowadays, many indicators are precisely
measurable and procedures can be automatized, so there is no need to maintain the
outdated CAP rules and controls just “for any case.” The most time and resource consuming
rules of the CAP should be found out and simplified via digital technologies. It would
significantly reduce red tape and bureaucracy not only for farmers but also for administrators,
both national and European, and every saved hour is a victory for our economy.
Farmers are the Heart of Digitalization
Finally, it is crucial that farmers and agricultural sector are fully involved to
all the discussions about digitalization, which are currently going on in EU and in
the world. Launching the strategy and developing of EU common digital market involves
many activities and initiatives, which can be useful for farming sector, like Digital
Skills and Jobs Coalition Initiative (7). It is very important that the problems and
questions mentioned above will be solved while considering the interests of farmers,
not only from the point of view of the ICT sector or technology companies. Digitalization
of farming sector would contribute to its competitiveness, help to raise farmers’
income, and attract young people to join the traditional activity, which is vital
for the whole society.
EK made substantial contribution to conception and acquisition of data, wrote the
manuscript, checked the references, and acted as corresponding author.
Conflict of Interest Statement
The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial
or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.