Knowledge key to brighter future


An exciting new era in farming and food production is anticipated - leading to a doubling in the value of the sector to €40 billion by 2030.

A vision of the agri-food sector playing a wider role in a broader knowledge-based bio-economy is one of the central themes of a new Teagasc foresight report just published.

The report - 'Teagasc Foresight 2030' - was presented at the Teagasc 2030 Foresight conference in Dublin Castle today on Friday, 30 May 2008. The sector is facing change at an increasing pace - driven by issues such as energy supply and security, commodity price trends, climate change and market and consumer changes. The impact of these drivers of change have been evaluated and studied over an 18-month period as part of the foresight process.

Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle said - "Agriculture is on the cusp of profound change. There are immense challenges and opportunities, but we can look with confidence to a good future in farming. An internationally competitive Irish dairy industry - exploiting the natural advantage that grass provides - is set for substantial expansion as the EU milk quota system changes."

He added - "We anticipate a period of post-peak oil - when industries switch from fossil fuels with a need to derive 'green chemicals' from plants as an alternative to petroleum-based products. The opportunities to find alternative sustainable fuels from plants will provide a challenge for research and exciting opportunities for those involved in the agri-food industry."

The keynote address at the conference was delivered by Dr Gale Buchanan, from the United States Department of Agriculture. He told delegates that applying science and education to agriculture has improved human health and environmental quality. Science and education have also improved human nutrition, safer food, improved animal health, better soil management, improved use of fertilizer, enhanced varieties of crops, advanced control of insects, diseases and weeds and superior methods of harvesting, storing, transporting farm products and many other contributions.

Dr Buchanan said - "Investment in agricultural research and development is one of the prime drivers of growth in agricultural productivity. Productivity studies worldwide indicate that the rates of return to investment in agricultural R&D; are high in developed as well as developing countries."

He continued - "If we are going to be able to meet the world's future needs for food, feed, fibre and fuel, we will need all the science and technology tools available."

Dr Buchanan told delegates that the agricultural sciences are being tasked with developing technology to enable the sustainable production of biofuels for transportation - along with providing for the food, feed and fibre needs of a growing world population.

The US speaker warned that water availability and quality is an important challenge for agriculture. "In parts of the world, depleted groundwater reserves, degraded water quality and adverse climatic conditions are reducing the quality and quantity of freshwater" - he concluded.

Professor Gerry Boyle finished saying - "Teagasc's role is to provide science-based innovation support - requiring partnership, leadership and accountability. Teagasc is adapting and ready for change. A number of critical initial steps have already been taken, including the establishment of bioscience research centres to ensure that science technology and innovation are at the heart of the development of the agri-food sector."