Research focus turns to 'smart' agriculture
Developing 'smart' agriculture in Ireland will encourage more engagement with European projects in Horizon 2020, the upcoming framework programme for research and innovation in Europe.
‘Future Agri-Food’ plan will encourage researchers to work together in area of food and agriculture
Could Ireland make a name for itself in “smart” agriculture? We are soon to find out. On Friday two research funding agencies – Teagasc and Science Foundation Ireland – signed a memorandum of understanding for a funding call on “Future Agri-Food”, which will encourage researchers in Ireland from various disciplines to work together on questions relating to agriculture and food.
“In Future Agri-Food we want to link agriculture and food to some of the areas where Ireland has developed fantastic research capacity over the last decade or so - areas like ICT or sensors or immunology to name just a few,” says Dr Frank O’Mara, director of research at Teagasc.
“It’s about getting their attention onto agriculture and food-related issues, and turning agriculture into a much more data-intensive operation.”
“The data explosion that we are all aware of in many fields of work is just as big in agriculture and food,” notes O’Mara.
“We are collecting huge amounts of data on farms and about individual animals and crops, and with sensor development and data collection methods improving we are going to be exponentially increasing the amount of data that we collect.
“There’s a great opportunity there I think to get much more precision around what is going on in our farms and to use that information in a much smarter way - that is what future agri-food is about.”
And while plenty of types of information are already being collected, there could be opportunities for more.
“Currently there is a lot of data about the individual animals on farm – the date of birth and weight at various ages; that information is currently captured for most animals in the country, it is used in our animal breeding programme,” says O’Mara.
“But we don’t collect enough information on the health status of animals on farms – why couldn’t we be detecting that sort of information automatically using sensors?”
Harvesting data from the environment could also lead to smarter use of resources, notes O’Mara.
“Farmers apply fertilisers to their lands, and the weather conditions and the temperatures and characteristics of the soil are all factors that you would like to be taking into account in how much and what type of fertiliser to apply.
“And on a farm we have data about the number of animals on each farm and what their feed demand is,” he explains.