EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan has unveiled (subject to grant agreement) the first of nine regional clusters which will act as a one-stop-shop for two million farmers across the EU and the agrifood industry to access ag-tech research and supports.

Project aims to build a pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs

The €20 million SmartAgriHubs project aims to build a pan-European network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) and Centres of Competence in all 28 European member states co-ordinated through nine regional clusters. The SmartAgriHubs project is a new way for farmers, advisers and agtech SMES to engage with research centres and research-active higher education institutions. As part of the project, 80 new solutions will be introduced into the market. A total of €6 million has been set aside for open calls during the lifetime of the project. As the co-ordinator for the UK and Ireland regional cluster WIT, which has developed smart-agri expertise through its Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG) research centre, will be the central point of contact for farmers, advisers, ag-tech and agrifood companies, which want to avail of technology solutions for farming and business problems from across Europe. WIT president, Prof Willie Donnelly, founder of TSSG and long-time champion of smart agriculture, welcomed the announcement: “The designation of WIT as a regional cluster lead is significant for Ireland. It puts us at the centre of agtech in Europe.

At the forefront of smart-agri through research centre TSSG

"WIT has been at the forefront of smart-agri through our research centre TSSG. We are honoured to bring our 20 years of expertise into becoming a one-stop shop which will put agricultural technology into the hands of farmers, SMEs and agrifood organisations. We look forward to working in consultation with them on tech solutions available both locally and across the EU.” EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan said: “The European Commission has recognised that we need to ramp up our efforts in relation to agri-innovation if we want to maintain our competitive advantage in this century. Agriculture needs to become smarter, leaner and cleaner, while maintaining our trademark EU commitment to high quality and safety standards. Projects such as SmartAgriHubs will lead the way, and I commend WIT for its central involvement. “The Commission recently published its proposal for the next European budget 2021-2027, and it includes the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever. The Commission is proposing €100 billion for Horizon Europe – of which €10 billion is dedicated to the food and agriculture space: a breakthrough. I encourage Irish operators to keep a close eye on the calls for projects as they open. There will be enormous potential to do even more in the coming years.” Deputy director general of Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Ciarán Seoighe said: “I am delighted to welcome this important EU-supported SmartAgriHubs project. Science Foundation Ireland has to-date invested more than €57 million across 200 research projects in areas of significance to the agriculture sector.

Precision dairy, bio-economy, data analytics and bioengineering

"With several SFI-funded research projects and SFI research centres working in the likes of precision dairy, bio-economy, data analytics and bioengineering, Ireland is establishing itself as a knowledge leader in the global smart-agri sector. "Innovation and collaborative partnerships are central to this, and clearly underpin this initiative being led by WIT. Science Foundation Ireland looks forward to working with all of the partners involved, as we move into an exciting new era of cutting-edge innovation, creativity and sustainability in agriculture.” As the lead institute for research and innovation in agrifood in Ireland, Teagasc will play a central role in SmartAgriHubs. Teagasc, working with WIT, will lead two flagship innovation experiments in the project that demonstrate how technology can be used effectively in farming. Frank O’Mara, director of research at Teagasc, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Ireland, Teagasc and the other partners to step up our role in the application of digital technologies in Irish and European agriculture.

Rising global demand for high-quality food and nutrition

"The sector has great opportunity with the rising global demand for high-quality food and nutrition, but also faces many challenges such as profitability, climate change, water quality, and must also compete with other sectors for the people talent needed for the sector. "Ag-tech has an important role to play in realising the opportunities while overcoming the challenges. We have put ag-tech at the heart of our strategy and are delighted to be leading two of the 28 flagship innovation experiments that will take place across Europe. We are looking forward to bringing our expertise and connections in this area to SmartAgriHub.” George Beers, project manager at the Wageningen University and Research and SmartAgriHubs project co-ordinator, said: “SmartAgriHubs will not only increase the competitiveness and sustainability of Europe’s agrifood sector. It will become the fourth industrial revolution that will strategically re-orient the digital European agricultural innovation ecosystem towards excellence and success. "Together with our 108 partners, we believe SmartAgriHubs will unlock the potential of digitisation by creating a pan-European network of DIHs, organise an inclusive ecosystem around them and foster them to achieve their full innovation acceleration capacity.” DIHs in each region will have an adequate portfolio of mature innovation services through which farmers, advisers and ag-tech SMEs, can get access to the latest, knowledge, technology and expertise in a one-stop-shop.