A new digital innovation hub at the Abbey Quarter in Kilkenny City can drive the digital transformation of Europe's Agri-Food sector, boosting innovation and growth in the region, while burnishing Ireland’s global leadership in agricultural technology, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.
Speaking at the launch of the Precision Agriculture Centre of Excellence (PACE), 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 digitisation of the European economy requires the full integration of digital innovations across all sectors of the economy, 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.
“PACE is an excellent strategic fit for the South-East region where agriculture accounts for 43% of total employment. 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, said: “PACE is an initiative of the TSSG at Waterford Institute of Technology and will leverage the Institute’s leadership in agriculture and Information Technology research and innovation. It is an important next step in the Institute’s research and innovation centre which was established in St Kieran College in 2011. It will close the gap between research and deployment, with a focus on using existing technologies which are often deployed in other sectors.
“PACE will serve agri-food processors, farm advisory services, companies selling services and products to the agri sector, and agri-tech SME’s 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,” he added.
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.
“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 R&D funding to support technology integration and development,” Prof. Donnelly added.
Kilkenny County Council have been a proactive stakeholder in the development of PACE from the outset and will sit on the PACE advisory committee. Council Chief Executive, Colette Byrne, said: “PACE will provide a cornerstone for the development of an Agri-tech cluster at The Abbey Quarter where industry and academics will work hand in hand. By scouting for technologies across the entire third level sector, PACE will provide an opportunity to commercialise those technologies that have potential for deployment in the agricultural sector and grow its presence not just in Kilkenny but across Europe.”
Initally, PACE’s anchor staff already at four will start work immediately at the TSSG’s existing incubation hub at Burrell’s Hall, St Kieran’s in Kilkenny before their move to the Abbey Quarter.