“A sector cannot grow and expand and develop without knowledge, knowledge is paramount.” This is according to secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Tom Moran, who was speaking at the announcement of €26m for all-Ireland agri-food and forestry collaborative research projects this morning.

“The journey we are on as a food-producing country is an exciting one,” said Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney at the launch in Dublin’s Fallon & Byrne’s.

“I want to remind people this is the most important sector for the Irish economy. It is Ireland’s first industry. In many ways over the past five years, while we have been through many difficult times, people re-focus on the industries they can believe in, the industries that have real foundations, on the industries that produce real product and lean on and supported by tradition, expertise, knowledge and all the other things the food industry in Ireland has in huge volumes.”

Some 51 all-Ireland projects have been awarded funding and they will also provide training for more than 80 post-graduate students and contract employment for 90 highly trained scientists.

The projects supported cover a broad range of activities that include: improving the feeding, fertility and health of dairy and beef cattle; protecting and improving the quality of soil; addressing climate change; controlling Septoria disease in wheat; abatement of ammonia emissions in agriculture; food safety at farm and processor level; applying novel processing technologies to fish;  and identifying and enhancing the health properties of food and improving productivity of farming operations.

“It is exciting. We are moving from essentially being a commodity food producer and sell for export, moving into a premium space, not only in terms of food and technology, but in terms of research and innovation,” the minister added.

“There was a time when this department was about farmers and fishermen, now it is very much about building an industry, which of course relies on primary producers, which also equally relies on researchers, on research institutes, partnerships between universities, Teagasc and all the other bodies. So even when funds are tight, which they are, we will continue to fund research programmes that can provide and develop foods of the future that can enhance and build Ireland’s reputation and not just a place that produces sustainable, safe, high-quality tasty food that people will spend extra money on but that we are a research hub in terms of food.

“Everybody is upping their game. We need to create an excitement, a momentum and we got that again this week. This country created in the private sector 58,000 in last 12 months and over 25,000 were in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. There is something significant happening in this sector,” he concluded.

Among the key areas of research are: an assessment of beef from grass-based production systems, in the context of human nutrition and health; Science-based intelligent/functional and medical foods for optimum brain health, targeting depression and cognition; the development of a water use and waste management framework for the dairy processing industry; and marine sourced peptides for glycaemic management.

Speaking to AgriLand, Teagasc principal research officer Dr Aidan Maloney said the partnership between universities and the food and development authority is vital.

“It is a really good example of the farm-to-fork, farm-to-consumer approach. For example, the beef from grass-based production systems research area is a lovely model. It helps the beef industry, apart from the health of the consumer per se, if we demonstrate positive findings in this study, we can then say that grass-based beef is a healthier food than people might perceive it to be. This is key for the industry itself.”

The full research award list is available here Research Funding 2013.