Article appeared in issue 1, 2020

Teagasc welcomes new decade of knowledge-sharing

Two leading agri-food projects announced for 2020

A new trans-European beef network, the Beef Innovation Network (BovINE), aimed at addressing the sector’s sustainability challenges was recently launched by Teagasc in conjunction with European Union (EU) research and farming partners at the Teagasc Food Research Centre Ashtown, Dublin.

BovINE will link researchers, advisers, farmers and other relevant stakeholders across nine EU member states to stimulate the exchange of knowledge and ideas at an international level under the headings of: socioeconomic resilience, animal health and welfare, production efficiency and meat quality and environmental sustainability.

Teagasc successfully tendered and were awarded funding of €2 million by the EU to develop this project, which will be shared with 17 other EU partners. The BovINE project will engage with beef farmers from nine Member States, covering 75 per cent of the suckler cow population in Europe and 70 per cent of beef output. Focused on responding to farmer-identified needs, the BovINE network will provide beef farmers with access to information about innovations that could improve sustainability of their farms and the wider industry. 

 

Key expert and practitioner problem-solving

Dr Áine Macken-Walsh, senior researcher, Teagasc, said at the launch: “At the heart of this project is the belief that there are different sources of knowledge that can be used by farmers to solve their problems. There is the traditional ‘expert knowledge’ from scientists and researchers, but there is also the very valuable ‘practitioner knowledge’ that other farmers have developed as a result of grappling with similar problems. This project will bring both types of knowledge together to respond to farmers’ needs.”

Also presenting at the launch, Professor Maeve Henchion, head of the Department of Agrifood Business and Spatial Analysis of Teagasc, and BovINE coordinator, outlined how, each year, Teagasc will ask farmers to identify their most urgent needs so that Teagasc can respond accordingly. “Firstly, we will draw on the international network of our 17 partners which includes farmer associations, breeder associations, agricultural advisory organisations, and applied research institutions; we will look to identify and share examples of solutions used by other farmers across the EU-wide network. 

“Secondly, drawing on the same network, we will identify solutions from research results that have not yet been put into widespread practice.  Any proposed solutions that have not yet been applied in practice will be subject to scrutiny in a demonstration farm context before being promoted for widespread adoption.”

Farmers committed to communication

From a farmer’s perspective, Kevin Kinsella director of livestock with the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), welcomed the project’s initiative as he said it will provide a structure for Irish farmers to liaise and share information with their European counterparts as, at the core of the project, are comprehensive-communication activities targeted at beef farmers across Europe. “With continuing pressure on beef-farm incomes in Ireland and across Europe, this initiative is very welcome. This project will further enable us to learn more and improve, and share our experiences with other European beef farmers. We are committed to working with Teagasc and many European farm organisations and research colleagues through BovINE, to help Irish and European beef farmers.”

 

New Food Innovation Hub 

As part of Project Ireland 2040, a new €8.8 million National Food Innovation Hub at the Teagasc Food Research Centre, will open at the end of 2020 and will support and enable food companies to generate market-focused research ideas with the investment being made with funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The new world-class facility will allow (national or international, dairy and non-dairy) companies to rent high quality laboratories and offices to locate their own research and development (R&D) teams within the Teagasc Moorepark Research Centre. These teams will collaborate with Teagasc researchers and access advanced laboratory equipment and the recently upgraded (€10 million investment) adjacent ultra-modern Moorepark Technology Limited (MTL) pilot-plant facility.

 

Enhancing research initiatives

The addition of the new Food Hub provides a unique environment for food companies, greatly enhancing their research and innovation capacity and ability to innovate to reach new markets abroad. The investment complements a recent €10 million investment by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in the Prepared Consumer Foods Centre, which is based at Teagasc Ashtown. 

Speaking at the sod turning, Minister Michael Creed said: “There are many features that make the location of the Food Innovation Hub an attractive offering for companies including access to advanced analytical laboratories, pilot plant infrastructure, critical mass in R&D, and an opportunity to connect with world-leading food scientists. The Teagasc Food Research Programme is internationally recognised and spans the entire food chain, from production at farm level, to processing operations and analytical testing. It focuses on industry-relevant research and its success is built on its specialist nature, innovative capacity and research infrastructure.  Furthermore, the ability to access a state of the art pre-commercial pilot plant, MTL, is extremely attractive for companies active in the R&D space.”

 

High-tech on-site facilities 

The Food Innovation Hub will contain private industry units with secure dedicated offices and laboratories that can be rented to locate R&D staff on-site to carry out company-specific research. Some of the specialised scientific facilities within the Food Programme that hub-based companies can access include: the Teagasc DNA Sequencing Centre, National Food Imaging Centre, Flavour Chemistry Facility, Bioactive Protein Discovery Unit, Bio-Functional Food Engineering Facility and Rheology suite. 

Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “The combination of highly qualified staff, extensive facilities and national and international linkages makes Teagasc Moorepark an ideal location for the Food Innovation Hub. By renting a unit, both national and international companies have the opportunity to leverage world-class resources to enhance their own research and innovation programmes. The Hub concept provides a unique offering that can form part of Enterprise Ireland initiatives to secure foreign direct investment with international companies. It provides opportunities at Teagasc for collaborative research with Industry that can even extend to tripartite arrangements between Teagasc, a national and international company. 

“Access to the Food Programme and MTL ensures participation in a number of national virtual research initiatives including Enterprise Ireland’s industry-led centres – Food for Health Ireland (FHI) and Dairy Processing Technology Centre (DPTC) – the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded APC Microbiome Institute and the recently funded Vistamilk SFI Agri-tech research centre, which is led from Teagasc, Moorepark.”