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Nuffield Ireland’s annual conference focuses on environmental issues

Panel discussion argues that the unbalanced narrative which demonises Irish agriculture needs to be addressed

Nuffield Ireland today hosted its annual conference in the Castleknock Hotel. The event featured an expert panel discussion which explored the theme ‘Future trends in agri-food policy – how does the sector need to respond?’. The discussion set out the challenges currently facing the industry and the practicalities of fulfilling Food Vision 2030. The panel agreed that in order to achieve a climate-smart, environmentally sustainable agri-food sector, private funding for research and innovation is required. The panel also discussed the ‘unfair way’ in which the agri-food sector is being viewed publicly.

Declan Kelleher, former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the European Union (2013-2020) and Ambassador to China from 2004-2013 said “There is an unbalanced narrative at play involving the demonisation of Irish agriculture which is wrong and very unfortunate – that debate needs to be evened up, we need to colonise the airwaves and set out the position, not in a defensive way, but in a proactive way.”

Tom Arnold, Chair, EU Commission’s high level expert group which will assess the need for an International Platform for Food Systems Science, added, “I think there has been an excessive polarisation of opinion between the agricultural world and the environmental world that is unproductive. We need to get to the point where we have a much clearer sense of a common ground and to work to a programme to achieve that. I believe that what we have set down in Food Vision 2030 can be a basis for that but it is going to require a lot more discussion and willingness to compromise to go down that road.”

Karina Pierce, Associate Professor of Dairy Production in UCD and Nuffield Scholar discussed her recent Nuffield Ireland report which recommended the need for a National Agri-Food Research &

Innovation Policy to address the challenges facing the industry in order to gives direction to strategy and investment. “If we are going to realise the potential that research and innovation offers we are going to need greater cohesion, greater collaboration and better communication to allow science to be translated into strong business, strong policy and strong management decisions. Because of the scale of investment required, private sector funding is going to need to be involved. However this involvement can threaten the perceived independence of the research so this must be addressed.”

The conference also heard the findings of the reports of the five returning 2020 Nuffield Scholars. The key recommendations from each of these reports were:

  1. Kate Dempsey, founder of the Irish Mussel Seed Company (IMSC), the first fully licensed offshore mussel seed provider on the east coast recommended better inclusion and fairer planning from Marine Spatial Planning policy makers. This includes a bottom-up approach, integrating local perspectives with science and economic knowledge in order to vastly increase the overall success of a spatial plan.
  2. Dairy Farmer, Bruce Thompson from outside Portlaoise in County Laois recommended using dung beetles as an alternative to anthelmintics in order to provide a solution to anthelmintic resistance and their negative environmental impacts.
  3. Gareth Lamberton, a dairy farmer from Fahan in Donegal recommends that farmers must re-engage in their communities, and this can be encouraged by providing training for farm advisors to provide support and mental health advice along with financial assistance in the areas of training, health and safety and knowledge transfer.
  4. Linda O’Neill, a Dungarvan-based Dairy Farmer, originally from Castletownbere in West Cork has recommended that in order to attract younger entrants to the industry, we must enhance the promotion of farming as a career in schools and colleges; improve the role third level agricultural education plays in preparing students for farming as a career; and encourage young people to travel to gain experience.
  5. Robbie Byrne, a farmer and soil nutrition expert from Irishtown in County Louth recommended that regenerative agriculture is the way forward to ensure sustainability in Irish agriculture and that more focused research to support this must be carried out by relevant stakeholders.

For more information including a full copy of all presentations visit www.nuffield.ie