15 Aug 2022

Kilkenny native to coordinate smart-agri data project

Innovation to make the Irish agri-food and forestry industries more resilient


Hazel Williams, Senior Strategic Business Partner (Agri), TSSG, Laois (from Kilkenny), pedigree farmer

The sensitivities around agricultural data sharing are the focus of new research being undertaken by smart-agri specialists, coordinated by a Kilkenny woman, at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and Teagasc.

The AgriDISCRETE research project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) kicked off recently and will run for two years up until January 2022. Its primary aim is to explore opportunities and solutions for data use and data sharing, with a specific focus on the dairy and forestry sectors.

Two research centres from WIT are involved. On the data analytics side is the Telecommunications Systems and Software Group (TSSG), which is growing its reputation as the experts in applying ICT in the agricultural industry. Business modelling will be informed by RIKON’s innovation hub, while Teagasc will provide expertise on social science and rural development.

Kilkenny native Hazel Williams, who now lives in Laois, is project coordinator and Strategic Business Partner for Agriculture in TSSG. She says it will ensure data sharing models in the dairy and forestry sectors are beneficial to all.

“Data is generated at all stages along the agri-food and forestry supply chains," says Ms Williams.

"From the primary producer to the processor, and onto the final consumer, as well as every step in between, different people add value and create data. Such information is the oil that keeps the supply chain moving, and digitalisation will enable a new level of efficiency for all parties.”

Using the newly published Code of Conduct on agricultural data sharing from Copa-Cogeca, the united voice of farmers and agri-cooperatives in the EU, representing 22 million farmers, AgriDISCRETE researchers will consider sensitivities related to privacy, intellectual property, data protection, ownership, and data security, as well as the more complex issues of trust and control.

Ms Williams says that the lack of stakeholder engagement and demonstration of benefits to different people in the supply chain have hampered digital development up to now.

“This innovation will ultimately make the Irish agri-food and forestry industries more resilient in the long-term,” she says.

AgriDISCRETE’s first task is to map out various stakeholders and their roles within the supply chain. This includes farmers, foresters, processors, transporters, and retailers. Those who support these various roles will also be involved, including policymakers, the ag-tech industry and agricultural advisors.

A series of six workshops with clusters of these stakeholders will allow their ideas, concerns and potential solutions to be teased out and recorded. This will allow the project to anticipate and respond to broader socio-economic and ethical issues arising from the increased exchange of data in dairy and forestry. Using this information, AgriDISCRETE will sketch out and trial various data models. These will be validated via trials in dairy and forestry enterprises, ensuring that emerging solutions are road-tested from the outset.

Williams explains the importance of this project to the agriculture industry: “Data governance and data management is vital. AgriDISCRETE will identify and promote best practice in agricultural data governance and it will enable everyone along the supply chain to experience the benefits of the data they create.”

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