Waterford Institute of Technology announced as Ireland/UK coordinator for €20m EU-wide SmartAgriHubs

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Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) is to play a central role in the digital transformation of the agri-food sector in Europe.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan today (July 9) launched (subject to grant agreement) the first of nine regional clusters which will act as a one-stop-shop for two million farmers across the EU and the agri-food industry to access agri tech research and supports.

The €20m SmartAgriHubs project aims to build a pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) and Centres of Competence in all 28 European member states, coordinated through nine regional clusters. The SmartAgriHubs project is a new way for farmers, advisors and agtech SMEs to engage with research centres and research-active higher education institutions. As part of the project 80 new solutions will be introduced into the market. €6m has been set aside for open calls during the lifetime of the project.

As the coordinator for the UK and Ireland regional cluster, WIT - which has developed smart agri expertise through its Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) research centre - will be the central point of contact for farmers, advisors, agtech and agri-food companies who want to avail of technology solutions from across Europe to farming and business problems.

President of WIT Prof Willie Donnelly, founder of TSSG and a long time champion of smart agriculture, welcomed the announcement at the launch event. "The designation of WIT as a regional cluster lead is significant for Ireland. It puts us at the centre of agtech in Europe. WIT has been at the forefront of smart agri through our research centre TSSG. We are honoured to bring our 20 years expertise into becoming a one stop shop which will put agricultural technology into the hands of farmers, SMEs and agri-food organisations. We look forward to working in consultation with them on tech solutions available both locally and across the EU.”

Phil Hogan said: “The European Commission has recognised that we need to ramp up our efforts in relation to agri-innovation if we want to maintain our competitive advantage in this century. Agriculture needs to become smarter, leaner and cleaner, while maintaining our trademark EU commitment to high quality and safety standards. Projects such as SmartAgriHubs will lead the way, and I commend WIT for its central involvement.

“The Commission recently published its proposal for the next European budget 2021-2027, and it includes the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever. The Commission is proposing €100 billion for Horizon Europe, of which €10 billion is dedicated to the food and agriculture space - a breakthrough. I encourage Irish operators to keep a close eye on the calls for projects as they open. There will be enormous potential to do even more in the coming years.”

Dr Ciarán Seoighe, deputy director general at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “I am delighted to welcome this important EU-supported SmartAgriHubs project. Science Foundation Ireland has to-date invested over €57 million across 200 research projects in areas of significance to the Agriculture sector. With several SFI-funded research projects and SFI Research Centres working in the likes of precision dairy, bio-economy, data analytics and bioengineering, Ireland is establishing itself as a knowledge leader in the global SmartAgri sector. Innovation and collaborative partnerships are central to this, and clearly underpin this initiative being led by WIT. Science Foundation Ireland looks forward to working with all of the partners involved, as we move into an exciting new era of cutting-edge innovation, creativity and sustainability in agriculture.”

As the lead institute for research and innovation in agri-food in Ireland, Teagasc will play a central role in SmartAgriHubs. Teagasc, working with WIT, will lead two flagship innovation experiments in the project that demonstrate how technology can be used effectively in farming.

According to Frank O’Mara, director of research at Teagasc, “this is an exciting opportunity for Ireland, Teagasc and the other partners to step up our role in the application of digital technologies in Irish and European agriculture. The sector has great opportunity with the rising global demand for high quality food and nutrition, but also faces many challenges such as profitability, climate change, water quality, and must also compete with other sectors for the people talent needed for the sector. Agri-tech has an important role to play in realising the opportunities while overcoming the challenges. We have put agri-tech at the heart of our strategy and are delighted to be leading two of the 28 Flagship Innovation Experiments that will take place across Europe. We are looking forward to bringing our expertise and connections in this area to SmartAgriHub.”

George Beers, project manager at the Wageningen University and Research and SmartAgriHubs project coordinator, commented: “SmartAgriHubs will not only increase the competitiveness and sustainability of Europe’s agri-food sector. It will become the 4th industrial revolution that will strategically re-orient the digital European agricultural innovation ecosystem towards excellence and success. Together with our 108 partners we believe SmartAgriHubs will unlock the potential of digitization by creating a pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs, organize an inclusive ecosystem around them and foster them to achieve their full innovation acceleration capacity.”

Digital Innovation Hubs in each region will have an adequate portfolio of mature innovation services through which farmers, advisors and agtech SMEs can get access to the latest knowledge, technology and expertise in a one-stop-shop.