Friday, July 1, 2022

Ireland-NZ share common ground at agritech summit

Pastoral farming is under pressure and in a race against the rate of improvements made in confinement systems around the world. The realities of this predicament were explored recently at the New Zealand-Ireland Agritech Summit hosted by AgriTechNZ and their partner AgTech Ireland.

Speakers at the summit included farmers, technologists and researchers. An early theme emerged when it was noted that dairy systems based on corn have been able to double their efficiency every 20 years. It was clear that the competing challenges of productivity and environmental impacts are keeping communities awake in both Ireland and NZ.

Rooted in grass and fed with rain, neither Ireland nor NZ has any closer likeness than the other. When it comes to grass-based rotational grazing it turns out that both countries have been doing the same things, alone. However, the rate of collaboration is growing fast as both countries are seeking to up their game and realise that their competition is coming from outside this natural friendship, not within it.

This is not new, we have existing connections with farmers getting experience in each country, contractors travelling, researchers collaborating, companies trading – the summit amplified those links and builds on the context of technology applications and development.

Existing collaborations include: The Pasture Summit attended by communities of researchers and farmers from both countries; The Livestock Research Group under the Global Research Alliance, which looks at greenhouse gas reduction opportunities and is jointly chaired by NZ and Ireland; and the Statement on Joint Cooperation, which sees Irish Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) officials, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), meeting annually for agriculture policy dialogues.

The summit was launched by our Agriculture and Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, and the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD.

The similarities between the countries goes beyond pasture-based farming systems. NZ and Ireland are both island nations with an export focus, cultures of innovation and deep affinity with the land. Each country is a natural market for the other’s technology and they also share an aspiration to have global impact.

Chair of AgTech Ireland Padraig Hennessy commented: “There is already a history of connection across our primary sectors and, since we face many of the same challenges, there is real potential to accelerate our agritech businesses through collaboration. This summit brought together experts to discuss farmer perspectives, agritech investment and environmental challenges.”

The summit was structured as three concurrent sessions covering Voice of the Farmer, Voice of Agritech business and Voice of the Planet.

In the first session, dairy farmers from both countries shared their perspectives on lifting production while doing more with less. The role of technology in preparing farms for succession or attracting and keeping key staff was discussed. Panellists spoke through their experiences with heat detection, voluntary milking and virtual fencing. It was also noted that in NZ there’s been a belief that the cow must fit the system, but with constrained platforms the Irish beliefs have had to be based on the system fitting the cow. Both systems have also operated at different scales, so bringing insights together through technology use has great opportunities for learning from each other.

The session on agritech business included the NZ farm accounting business Figured, which has developed strong partnerships in Ireland, and Irish business Emydex, which has deployed automation systems in NZ meat plants.

Investment opportunities were also discussed by leading representatives of Agritech and Agrifood investor Finistere Ventures. Key takeaways from this session included to get the right balance of skills and experience in a business, especially when the business stage is moving towards expansion in new markets.

Finally, the Voice of the Planet session had industry experts sharing their perspectives on the tools and approaches to mitigating environmental impacts. New developments in animal diets and breeding were discussed, including the importance of early life rumen development and mixed species swards to reduce methane production. The role of farms as full ecosystem service providers which not only produce food, but also enable biodiversity and natural habitats, as well as carbon offsetting opportunities.

This was the first NZ Ireland Agritech Summit but not the last. Both AgriTechNZ and AgTech Ireland will persist relations through key events like Irish National Ploughing in September and National Fieldays in November.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Dairy Farmer.

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