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Research Impact Highlights 2021 - General

Research Impact Highlights 2021 - General

Teagasc Research Impact Highlights in 2021, a supplement of TResearch magazine, was recently released.

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Farm safety and farmer health seminar series

David Meredith, John McNamara and Mohammad Mohammadrezaei

Farm safety and farmer health are fundamental elements underpinning the social sustainability of farming. Improving safety and farmer health is challenging as it requires farmers to adopt new practices and behaviours. Supporting farmers to make these changes requires action by a range of organisations and institutions, including policy, regulators, advisors, farming organisations, farmers, farm household members and researchers. In 2021, Teagasc established and delivered a farm safety and farmer health Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS) to bring these groups together. The KESS – which continues to this day – encourages discussion, fosters improved understanding and seeks to realise opportunities for greater knowledge exchange and collaboration. To date, five seminars have been held, drawing on research based in Ireland and internationally. The KESS was launched by Martin Heydon, TD, the Minister of State with responsibility for Farm Safety. The seminars have attracted over 250 participants, including those with responsibility for social sustainability within EU agri-policy. The learnings from the KESS were critical in building the SafeHabitus consortium that successfully bid for €5,000,000 in Horizon Europe funding.   

Contact: david.meredith@teagasc.ie  
Other contributors: University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Galway, South East Technological University, Bassett Research Institute – New York and the Catholic University of Louvain.
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine BeSAFE project.
Impact pathway: Capacity building.

Market opportunities for Irish beef and sheep

Maeve Henchion

Approximately half of cattle and sheep carcasses are not meat. This proportion – termed the ‘fifth quarter’ by industry – includes edible and inedible components, and is a potentially valuable feedstock from which high value constituents can be extracted. Significant research has already been undertaken internationally to identify such constituents and the technologies and processes that enable their extraction. As part of the Meat Technology Ireland programme, key findings from this research have been synthesised and organised into a format that can be used to benefit the Irish meat industry. Using a systematic literature review, a database identifying such opportunities – including centres of excellence and key contacts globally – has been developed. This is now being used by Irish industry and others within the innovation system to drive strategic new market opportunities that simultaneously address sustainability challenges in the industry, in keeping with the sustainable, circular bioeconomy. It also provides direction for the future development of the sector. An Invention Disclosure Form (IDF) has been produced, resulting in the database being freely available to MTI-participating companies, with a peer reviewed publication outlining the related value chains accepted for publication.

Contact: maeve.henchion@teagasc.ie  
Other contributors: Ankush Shirsath.
Funding: Enterprise Ireland; Irish meat companies.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption; Capacity building.

Changing behaviours: antibiotic use on farms

Alison Burrell (Animal Health Ireland) and Áine Regan

New veterinary medicines regulations are changing how antibiotics can be used on farms. Farmers and vets can be supported to change their animal health management behaviours by combining these top-down regulatory interventions with bottom-up interventions targeting individual knowledge, attitudes and social behaviours. To support this, the AMU project developed seven behaviour change interventions grounded in behavioural science. Empirical work with over 550 farmers and vets informed an effective and targeted intervention design. The interventions included:

  • Reframing how we talk about antibiotics
  • OneHealth – a cross-border awareness campaign
  • Specialised communications training for veterinary and advisory professionals
  • User-friendly on-farm prompts
  • Peer-to-peer farmer social support and modelling
  • Supporting farmers to monitor antibiotic use
  • Vet champions for good antibiotic stewardship

Policy-makers and practitioners are provided with the building blocks to implement and evaluate these interventions. Impact is already being achieved through pilot projects trialling a specialised communications training programme for vets and farm advisors, delivered by psychologists from Animal Health Ireland and Teagasc.

Contact: aine.regan@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Moira Dean, Tony Benson and
Claire McKernan (Queen’s University Belfast), Conor McAloon and Hannah Martin (University College Dublin) and Edgar Garcia Manzanilla.
Funding: safefood.
Impact pathway: Capacity building.

Measuring the impact of Teagasc research 

Compiled by Máire Caffrey and Kevin Heanue

Teagasc uses two main approaches to identify the impact of its research: science excellence and societal impact. Science excellence focuses on peer reviewed publications and their indicators of quality, while societal impact focuses on understanding the pathways through which such science is put into use and the changes it helps to bring about in society. Throughout this publication, we have identified the impact pathways for each of the featured research impacts.

Peer-reviewed publications

Measuring the impact of our research is a key activity for Teagasc. One method we use is to track and monitor the number of articles in scientific journals authored by Teagasc researchers. Another strategy involves tracking how many times these articles are cited by other journal articles.

There are a number of resources available providing these citation counts and other metrics. We use online subscription-based indexing service Scopus and its accompanying research evaluation tool SciVal. The performance of our articles (considered to be those that have at least one author affiliated to Teagasc) is compared annually to that of other relevant research-performing organisations, for publications in a rolling six-year period.

Publication and citation patterns vary considerably across subject areas. Therefore, when using publication counts or citation-based metrics, comparisons within subject categories are the most meaningful. To place our performance in a national context, we can compare Teagasc’s performance with that of Irish universities, within three relevant subject categories: one broad category of Agricultural & Biological Sciences, and two narrower categories of Food Science and Agronomy & Crop Science.

Citation counts are merely a snapshot in time, as citations are constantly accumulating. When comparing Teagasc with Irish universities between 2016 to 2021:

  • within Agricultural & Biological Sciences (Figure 1) – Teagasc published the second highest number of articles, and had the second highest overall citation count
  • within Food Science (Figure 2) and Agronomy & Crop Science (Figure 3) – Teagasc had the highest overall number of articles and citations.

Furthermore, the strong international and national reputation of Teagasc research is demonstrated by the fact that, during this same period, 53% of Teagasc articles (indexed by SciVal) listed international collaborators, with a further 40% listing national collaborators.

Of course, all bibliometric analysis must be placed in context and the impact of our research must be evaluated in a variety of other ways in order to give the full picture.

Understanding research impact pathways

Kevin Heanue

Another approach to measuring the impact of research is to focus on identifying the changes in society that the research contributed to, and trying to understand how the research helped make those changes come about. In our latest statement of strategy Teagasc Together, we adopted a framework (Figure 4) to inform our approach to evaluating the societal impact of our research – and other activities – in this way.

The framework provides a structure to describe how Teagasc activities contribute to impact in the agri-food sector through three interconnected impact pathways. Research may contribute to one or more of the pathways, which are:

  1. Technology development and adoption.
  2. Capacity building.
  3. Policy Influencing

Information about how research has contributed to societal change is gathered primarily by using a case study approach. These cases not only focus on the research, but also the sectoral stakeholders, partners, other research-performing organisations and end users involved, and how their actions, interactions, activities and events help to create societal impact from the use of the research.

The three pathways are interlinked with self-reinforcing feedback loops around the capacity development pathway, which builds the capacity of the agri-food sector to innovate and transform.

  1. Technology development and adoption.

This pathway is the most familiar to many researchers. It is a reasonable simplification of reality when researchers are developing technology in already-established outcome trajectories; for example, breeding to maintain plant resistance to pests and diseases. Of course, it may also be new technological or institutional innovations that are developed by researchers.

  1. Capacity building.

In this pathway, the process of carrying out research builds the capacity of actors in the agri-food system to innovate. The pathway emphasises the need to enhance the capacities and interactions of actors that play a role in developing and putting into use the new knowledge, practices and services that contribute to achieving common developmental objectives, or resolving shared problems.

The actors involved include farmers and their organisations, other private sector organisations, public sector agencies, NGOs and civil society, as well as research, education and extension bodies. Participatory and collaborative research brings different stakeholders together to identify common challenges, building structural and cognitive social capital in the process.

Capacity development empowers actors involved in agricultural innovation systems – including farmers. An effective way of building this capacity is as part of collaborative research processes that engage a range of actors around a shared set of objectives, according to their interests and comparative advantages.

  1. Policy Influencing

In our final pathway, researchers generate insight and evidence with the specific intent of influencing policy; for example, in respect to strategies for agriculture to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Policy change then helps build an enabling environment for beneficial agri-food innovations.