An unprecedented sum of €10bn has been agreed under Horizon Europe to support research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bio-economy, writes Tom Murphy, Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland.
Living in a farming township, our neighbourhood watch works very well. Strangers or parked cars of unknown origin are quickly spotted and approached in a friendly way to check their bona fides. Communities are like a big extended family and people take an interest in what everyone is doing. Out and about recently, taking in some much-needed sunshine, I met one of my farming neighbours who greeted me with: “I hear you were in Brussels again last week… have you any good news for us?” Happily, I was able to answer in the affirmative.
Having been invited, along with other farming stakeholders across the EU, to discuss ‘Innovating for the Future of Farming and Rural Communities’, the overall message was simple: to use research, innovation and precision farming to improve productivity, producing more for less. As with the all the recent European meetings I’ve attended, Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland (PAC Ireland) was the only representative body present to speak for the agricultural contracting sector.
This event saw the rare occurrence of addresses by two European commissioners: Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas; and Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan. Both commissioners came to the meeting directly from the College of Commissioners, where they were involved in protracted negotiations with European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, to determine the level of funding available for the next framework programme, Horizon Europe. The commissioners announced that an unprecedented sum of €10bn had been agreed under Horizon Europe to support research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bio-economy. There is no doubt that ongoing investment in support of science, research and innovation will contribute to the development of a more productive and sustainable EU agriculture and food sector, and this will undoubtedly have a positive impact on productivity for Irish farmers, too.
During the evening networking session, I got chatting to one of my friends who works at the Commission and was gratified to be told that my persistence in speaking up for agricultural contractors had been recognised and contractors would, where appropriate, be included in initiatives arising from this programme of work. Arriving back home, I have to contrast the attitude in Europe to that of our own Government, which has little interest in the agricultural contracting sector. By excluding agricultural contractors from EU grants for smart and environmentally friendly machinery, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) is not looking at the bigger picture and appears oblivious to the long-term effects on the farming sector. Agricultural contractors are best placed to provide smart, high-spec machinery services and can allow even smaller farmers to embrace the latest innovations. The significant financial investment required for most smart technology can be justified by agricultural contractors with a large client base. It is high time that we have formal acknowledgement by the DAFM that agricultural contractors are integral to the farming sector if sustainable planned output is to be achieved.