Heydon outlines importance of agri-food R&D at high-level EU event

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) with responsibility for research and development, Martin Heydon, has today (Tuesday, February 9) highlighted the vital role that research and innovation will have in helping the agri-food sector to deliver on sustainability objectives.

Minister Heydon’s remarks came as he delivered a keynote speech at a high-level EU event on ‘Research and Innovation in Agri-food Systems’.

Today’s event, which had close to 500 registered participants, focused on EU research opportunities for universities and industries for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) period.

Speakers at the EU event

Other speakers at the event included: Bulgarian deputy minister of education and research science, Karina Angelieva; director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Simonetta Di Pippo; and John Bell, director Healthy Planet in the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation.

In his opening speech, Minister Heydon made the following comments:

“There are over 137,000 farms in Ireland, the vast majority being family-run farms. Our agri-food industry as a whole accounts for about 7.1% of the workforce.

For certain products such as beef, we are more than 650% self-sufficient, for sheep meat we are 300% self-sufficient and for pig meat the figure is more than 200%. We export about 85% of the food that we produce.

“This demonstrates how important farming and the related food processing industries are to our rural and regional economy.”

Challenges

The minister pointed out that the process of exporting food comes with challenges.

“We must work hard to ensure that our produce is consistently of the highest quality, affordable, nutritious and safe,” he said.

At the same time it is important to recognise that today’s citizens and our modern consumers require that our food systems change so that they can play a leading role in addressing climate action.

“In order to address this, Ireland has committed to becoming climate neutral by 2050, along with our fellow EU member states.

“My government has also committed to an ambitious target of reducing overall greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions by an average of 7% per annum between 2021 and 2030,” he added.

It is my firm belief that we can take giant steps forward to address our key challenges through our national and our European research and innovation systems; we must all collaborate and we must all strive for solutions and ensure they are used as speedily as possible.

Investment

The minister told those attending the event that Ireland will continue to invest significantly in areas related to sustainable food systems, with a focus on developing a climate-neutral farm and food model that ensures the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the Irish agri-food sector.

“At the same time, this transition must deliver for the primary producer and avoid simply adding costs. For this reason, I am putting a strong focus on developing the circular bioeconomy with the aim of delivering new revenue streams for our farmers,” he said.

In Budget 2021, I secured an increase in my department’s R&I [research and innovation] budget allocation to €18 million. Increasing the level of investment in research is a no-regret option, particularly now as we face numerous societal challenges, many of which necessitate innovative solutions.

Minister Heydon concluded by highlighting that continued cooperation at EU-level is vital.

“I fully believe that by working together at all levels, not just in the area of research and innovation, our ambition to be the first climate neutral continent will become a reality.”