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Teagasc and SFI Fund Pioneering Agri-Food Research

Teagasc has welcomed today’s announcement of the funding of two research projects under the joint Science Foundation Ireland/Teagasc themed research funding call, ‘Future Agri-Food’.

The successful projects are:

  • Using precision technologies, technology platforms and computational biology to increase the economic and environmental sustainability of pasture based production systems, which is led by Dr. Laurence Shalloo, Teagasc in collaboration with Dr. William Donnelly of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).  The research focuses on the use of information and communication technologies for agriculture, often referred to as smart agriculture or e-agriculture. Smart-agri is critically important due to increasing herd size, requirement for increased efficiency, public concern for animal well-being and environmental sustainability. Some smart-agri applications are already in place such as milk recording; others are in development, such as real-time information on stomach activity in cows. The proposed research will involve the collaboration of a number of researchers in Teagasc, the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group in WIT and industry. It focusses on using information from grass and animal sensors to deliver effective farm management information. This approach will enable more efficient farming, will grow a new e-agri industry in Ireland, and will help realise the Food Harvest 2020 targets.

  • The development of early non-invasive and reliable molecular biomarkers of pregnancy in dairy cattle, which is led by Prof. Michael Diskin of Teagasc in collaboration with Prof. Mark Crowe of University College Dublin.  The aims of this project are to use the latest targeted molecular approaches to validate and commercialise recent findings of putative novel molecular biomarkers of early pregnancy in dairy cows, and progress them to application and licensing as inline automated systems for pregnancy diagnosis in cattle. Poor fertility is a continuing problem in dairy herds and it is estimated that for each day the calving interval exceeds the well-established optimum 365 day interval for pasture-based systems, it costs an additional €7/day/cow in the herd. A reliable early pregnancy test based on milk samples within 21 days of AI would mark a major advance in reproductive management of dairy herds. This proposal will involve collaboration with Dr. Eithne Dempsey of Institute of Technology, Tallaght and Prof. Pauline Rudd of the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training.

The total funding for the two projects is €2.5 million, and they will commence later in 2014.

Teagasc Director Prof. Gerry Boyle said: “The aim of the joint initiative between Teagasc and SFI was to link Teagasc scientists in the food and agriculture disciplines together with scientists from other disciplines such as ICT and sensors in order to strengthen innovation in the agri-food sector. The convergence of this broad range of disciplines will help underpin the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability targets set out in the Department of Agriculture’s “Food Harvest 2020” strategy. The projects fit within the remit of Sustainable Food Production and Processing, one of the 14 areas identified by the National Research Prioritisation Exercise”.

In welcoming the announcement, Dr. Frank O’Mara, Director of Research in Teagasc said: “The other important element of this themed call is that it has encouraged researchers from a variety of disciplines to think about how their skills could be applied to solutions for the agri-food sector. Projects have to be multidisciplinary with at least two partners, each of which will have very significant roles in the project. As well as the significant collaborations formed in the two successful applications, this themed call has acted as a catalyst, leading to many new collaborations between Teagasc researchers and researchers from other disciplines, not traditionally associated with agriculture and food. We look forward to these exciting collaborations bearing fruit for the Irish agri-food sector over the coming years”.