A cgi image of the brewhouse building
As thousands of people flock to the Ploughing Championship this week, plans are afoot to turn a part of Kilkenny’s St Francis’ Abbey brewery site into a dedicated hub for ‘smart farming’ technology and ‘agri-tech’ start-up companies.
Major industry players including Glanbia, Alltech, and Dawn Meats are already on board with the proposal, which would see an agri-tech cluster of companies establish at the site’s former Brewhouse building.
At Monday’s meeting of Kilkenny County Council, Brian Foley of the TSSG told councillors that Precision Agriculture Centre of Excellence (PACE) is seeking €2 million in funding from Enterprise Ireland to help realise this ambition. The funding application is currently being evaluated, and if successful, approval could follow as early as November.
“It’s an opportunity to position the south-east to the fore in response to global ag-tech and ‘smart farming’ opportunities,” said Mr Foley.
“We are in a good position to make this happen.”
Currently, there is no dedicated centre for agri-tech in Ireland. The sector is growing rapidly to meet the growing global demand for food production — set to increase by 70% by 2050.
The UK has recently invested nearly £18 million in an ‘agri-EPIcentre’ of its own, and Ireland has an opportunity to capitalise.
At present, ICT research is taking place in Ireland, but it is fragmented and not available for easy access by the industry. The south-east is seen as a strong location to establish a hub, due to its strong agricultural footprint and the presence of major food and agri-tech companies. There is also existing ICT infrastructure through the TSSG.
The scale of the investment needed is €2.5 million, and PACE is hoping to get €2 million of this from Enterprise Ireland, with the remaining €500,000 to come from the five partners, as well as Waterford IT and Kilkenny County Council.
The project has the potential for employment in PACE, but also in the potential start-ups that come on board as PACE acts as the anchor for a cluster of agri-tech companies. It’s envisaged that a mutli-disciplinary team would operate out of the brewhouse, employing 12 people in year one, rising to 17 by year three, and ultimately 30 people. The potential to attract other tech companies and start-ups would see further jobs created.
“We want to see a cluster of companies around PACE, and generating their own business,” said Mr Foley.
There has been consultation with the South East Action Plan for Jobs and the five local authorities of the region. The initiative has the support of the LEADER groups, and contact has been made with the LEOs, the Department of Agriculture, the EPA, Teagasc and the IFA.
Welcoming the plans, Cllr Pat Fitzpatrick said it was ‘a historic day’ and a massive opportunity for Kilkenny.
"A precision agri centre of excellence - that’s what the south-east needs to be,” he said.