Regulation must not be a barrier to innovation, an audience of farming and building machinery manufacturers was told in Brussels.

The warning came from Anthea McIntyre MEP at a high level gathering in the European Parliament organised by the European Forum for Manufacturing and focusing on the two related sectors.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative spokesman on both agriculture and environment, said innovation was key to competitiveness, yet in the EU, science-based policy-making was under threat.

The West Midlands UK MEP said: "I have used my position as an MEP to urge partnerships between academia, industry, breeders, the agro-chemicals sector, farmers and food manufacturers to ensure our European agricultural sector does not fall behind its international competitors."

She outlined the scope of her report in the last  Parliament on Technological Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and its call for sustained investment in research and development to ensure new ideas and techniques are commercialised.

Miss McIntyre stressed: "We must make sure that small farmers as well as large can benefit from technology.

"The agriculture sector has always relied on new techniques and production methods to increase outputs and to adapt to new and changing circumstances. At the present time, there is a particular need for innovation in precision farming.

"In the desire to reduce the environmental impact of agricultural chemicals, the development of new active substances is essential and so is the development of new machinery to apply these substances.

"Economic development and sustainable production are not mutually exclusive. They are both achievable through innovation. We can improve the performance and adaptability of precision farming techniques and we must ensure that research funding is used effectively in the interests of agriculture.

"Harper Adams University in my region has done pioneering work with its 'Hands Free Hectare'. They were first in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop using robotic tractors and drones, with no operators in the driving seat or agronomists on the ground. 

"Now they are broadening out to 35-hectares and a new vision of the future of farming.

"This is no longer a feasibility study, but a real world farm, complete with irregular shaped fields, obstacles, undulating land and pathways. This will be a real testbed for agricultural innovation.

 "It is so important that EU regulation enables farmers to make the best use of such resources. EU regulations must not undermine innovative processes by putting unnecessary administrative burdens on farmers or on manufacturers."