A new digital innovation hub in Kilkenny can drive the digital transformation of Europe’s agri-food sector, boosting innovation and growth in the region, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

The hub could also play a part in burnishing Ireland’s global leadership in agricultural technology, the commissioner added.

Speaking today, Monday, May 20, at the launch of the Precision Agriculture Centre of Excellence (PACE), being established in Kilkenny city through Waterford Institute of Technology with assistance from Kilkenny County Council, Commissioner Hogan said: “This impressive new hub gives Ireland’s agri-tech companies, most of them SMEs and micro-enterprises, direct access to best-in-class technologies and research, as well as cascade funding.

Smart use of knowledge, research and innovation is the main source of productivity growth in the EU agri-food sector.

The commissioner went on to say that the digitisation of the European economy required the full integration of digital innovations across all sectors including agriculture and food.

“Precision agriculture has never been more important in an industry facing challenges posed by climate change, ecosystem degradation and world population growth, as well as the growing need to produce more, using less.

“With facilities like PACE, we are building a network of digital innovation hubs across Europe to accelerate this digital transformation,” the commissioner said.

Commissioner Hogan described PACE as “an excellent strategic fit” for the south-east region, noting that agriculture accounts for 43% of total employment in the area.

“This, coupled with the presence of leading global agri-food companies headquartered in the region and a growing base of agri-tech companies, confirms the pivotal role PACE can play in growing the region’s economy,” Commissioner Hogan said.

Waterford Institute of Technology president, Prof. Willie Donnelly, also commented on the occasion.

He added: “PACE will serve agri-food processors, farm advisory services, companies selling services and products to the agri sector, and agri-tech SMEs and start-ups and rural-based industries which have the potential to transform into higher technology and higher value businesses.

“PACE will also serve regulatory, compliance and policy authorities by providing a technology resource to support their mission.”

While the potential of ICT in agriculture is recognised, no single ICT-agricultural focused centre in Ireland is capable of identifying these advanced ICT solutions, Prof. Donnelly added.

“A large amount of ICT research taking place in Irish and international research centres is fragmented and not ready for immediate and easy adoption by the agricultural industry,” he continued.

“PACE will have the capability to identify existing technologies which are of interest to the sector – including the internet of things, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence – and assess their suitability for deployment in the Irish agricultural sector.

“PACE will also build connections between technology providers and Agri-Tech firms. It will also investigate and help to secure national and international research and development funding to support technology integration and development,” Prof. Donnelly added.