University College Dublin’s (UCD) Director of Research, Triona McCormack, has addressed a hearing of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the topics of smarter food production and the future of young farmers.
The hearing is the second this month by the Committee into innovative new methods for boosting the productivity and diversity of Ireland’s agricultural output.
Also attending the hearing were; Professor Alex Evans, Dean of Agriculture and Head, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, Professor Dolores O’Riordan, Director, UCD Institute of Food and Health and UCD Vice-President for Global Engagement and Professor Mark Keane, UCD Chair of Computer Science, UCD School of Computer Science.
UCD is the largest university in Ireland and is ranked within the top 1 per cent of universities worldwide. UCD has a strong track record of education and research in agri-food and has the only veterinary programme in the Country. UCD researchers are supported by and collaborate with many organisations including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Irish industry, the European Union and other international partnerships.
During her opening address Ms McCormack outlined a number of challenges, in areas such as climate impact, global food production, nutrition, sustainability and the increasing demand by consumers for safe food, which are affecting the agri-food sector.
While such challenges go beyond what UCD can resolve on its own during her address to the committee she gave some practical examples of how the future of farming and food is changing, and how UCD is working with others to deliver on that change and how this change can engage young farmers in a diverse and technologically advanced career.
These examples focused on; opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy; the use of ICT in agriculture or precision agriculture and the future of food and nutrition.
Triona McCormack, Director, UCD Research said, “At UCD, we are in the business of generating new knowledge and educating future business people, lawyers, scientists, programmers and farmers. We believe it’s an exciting time to be in the food and farming sector, but we are fully aware that it doesn’t feel that way. We all need to work together to make farming a compelling career choice. Part of the challenge nationally is funding the investment needed to make living life in rural communities more attractive. It’s important that these communities have access to schools, hospitals and basic broadband infrastructure.”
On the issue of encouraging young people to choose a future in farming she said, “We need to work together to make farming a compelling career for our ambitious young people. If we can create the right environment for innovation and for a step-change in our agrifood sector, future farmers will be data analysts, technologists and entrepreneurs. They will continue to be custodians of the land but will do so using different approaches and tools. We in UCD, along with our partners in the IoTs and Teagasc share a challenge in educating the farmers of the future and in creating the conditions for a viable economic future for them.”
She concluded her address by saying, “There is an opportunity for us to create a bright and vibrant future for Irish agrifood sector and to lead this discussion in Europe. We need to look at innovative ways of using new knowledge coming from multiple areas to solve the interdependent challenges of nutrition, production, environmental and economic sustainability, in an integrated way. In doing so, we will need to work differently, creating new partnership models between universities, industry, farmers, local government and civic society. We at UCD are confident that this can be achieved and, in some areas we are already doing it.”
Speaking in advance of the hearing Pat Deering TD, Chairman, Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine said, “The Committee is keen to identify roles for science and technology to play in making farming and agriculture a dynamic growth story and an increasingly viable career path for young people.”
He added, “One area of interest is the developing field of ‘precision agriculture,’ using GPS and satellite-navigation technology to give farmers a wealth of new information on every aspect of their crop or herd,” he said.
“Using data in this way can help improve the timing, scale and accuracy of almost any decision a farmer might make, from crop rotations and fertiliser use to product traceability. These developing high-tech capabilities should advance our ability to produce food in the most environmentally friendly, nutritional manner possible.”
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