Students studying food and agriculture at five leading Irish third-level colleges will take part in the third annual Great Agri-Food Debate, which will be held on Thursday, February 15, at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).

Students from WIT will be joined by teams from University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC), Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Dundalk Institute of Technology (DIT).

This is a marked increase in interest from the past two years, where two debating teams – UCD and WIT – have battled it out for top honours; UCD came out on top in last year’s debate in a close-fought contest.

The students will debate the key challenges facing the Irish agri-food industry, including the merits of CAP, the likely impact of Brexit, and whether the agri-food industry is taking its environmental responsibilities seriously.

This is the third year the Great Agri-Food Debate, a joint initiative between Dawn Meats and McDonald’s, has taken place; there are plans to expand the number of participants further in 2019.

The judging panel of 12 will include industry leaders from finance, food safety, retail and agriculture.

These will include: Tara McCarthy, CEO Bord Bia; Willie O’Byrne, managing director of BWG Foods; Niall Browne, CEO Dawn Meats; Pamela Byrne, CEO FSAI; and Peter Garbutt, agricultural manager McDonald’s UK and Ireland.

Commenting on the event, Dawn Meats CEO Niall Browne said: “This event is growing from strength-to-strength and it’s great to have five colleges with strong food and agricultural programmes participating.

“Our industry faces many challenges, including the impact of Brexit and how we fulfil our responsibility to protect the environment.

I look forward to hearing the contributions and opinions of this year’s debaters who, in a short while, may be influencing the future direction of the industry.

Peter Garbut of McDonald’s also commented on the event, stating: “McDonald’s Farm Forward programme seeks to train, equip and support the next generation of young farmers here in Ireland.

“I look forward to visiting Waterford to hear from students about their ideas for creating a successful and sustainable farming industry and I look forward to discussing with them McDonald’s investment in driving sustainability across our supply chain during the event.”

This year’s debate will take place at WIT’s Sports Arena. The first debate will start at 11:30am, with the final to take place at 3:30pm. Each college will be represented by a team of six students.