The Agricultural Science Association’s (ASA) annual conference took place at the Killashee Hotel in Naas on Thursday, September 7th. 

Delegates drawn from across Ireland, including Green Acre Marketing, attended the Agricultural Science Association’s (ASA) annual conference which was held at the Killashee Hotel in Naas on Thursday last, September 7th.

The three session conference, which discussed the ‘Science of Sustainable Food Systems’, heard from a range of industry, academic and farming practitioners regarding many of the most relevant environmental, economic and geopolitical considerations.

The plenary address, delivered by Jack Bobo (the Director of the University of Nottingham’s Food Systems Institute), focused on the delivery of a global food system between now and 2050.

“We need to 50 to 60 per cent more food by 2050, we need as much as 100 per cent more protein – and we already have this huge environmental footprint from agriculture – and things could get worse if we don’t find a way to do it better,” he said.

“All those who beat up on agriculture for what it’s not doing don’t talk about what it is doing. Things are wildly better…there have been dramatic improvements in agriculture and I don’t think most people appreciate where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re going.”

Delivering sustainable food supply

Citing a World Resources Institute report which focused on what’s required to deliver a sustainable food production and supply future – alternative proteins, shifting diets, reducing food wastes, etc – Mr Bobo (pictured right) said that daily and incremental improvements within agriculture rarely generated headlines.

“Those improvements will get us two thirds of the way towards a sustainable future. Think about that. The work that you do every day gets us two thirds of that way. So instead of blaming agriculture for not getting us all the way, why not help you get across the finish line? The challenges to get to our 2070 goal by 2050, that’s dramatically different to saying they’re bad and getting worse: in many ways, they’re good and getting better – but not fast enough. How we frame this conversation is critical to whether or not people want to come together to solve problems or (else) it just further divides them. Communication is key.”

Addressing the conference, 2018 Farmer of the Year, West-Waterford-based dairy farmer Gillian O’Sullivan referenced the “inconsistent supply” of clover-safe herbicide.

“On our own farm, when we find it we end up having to bulk-buy it…so we have to sort out a consistent supply of a post-emergence, clover-safe herbicide,” she stated.

Ms O’Sullivan, a qualified veterinary surgeon who has been milking once a day for the past 15 years alongside her husband Neil, said that the universal use of protected urea products, as trialled by the Department of Agriculture’s laboratory at Johnstown Castle, was essential going forward.

“If we have a negative ripple effect (in the use of trialled protected urea), it’s really going to hamper the progress of uptake of the key measures. So we need to sort out that labelling process.”

“Follow the science.”

When asked by fellow Waterford dairy farmer and Green Acre Marketing Managing Director Aileen Barron what one wish she could bring to policy makers, Ms O’Sullivan replied: “I would wish that policy makers would follow the science. I know that there was a controversial decision yesterday (regarding the Nitrates Derogation as of January 1st next), maybe the science would not back that up in terms of the nitrate reductions that are expected, with reducing stocking rates, moreso we see nitrate reductions in leaching, it is down to regional soil-based differences across different regions. So I would love if the science had been followed on that.”

2018 Farmer of the Year Gillian O’Sullivan, pictured with Dr William Minchin (Agricultural Trust CEO) during the ASA Conference’s session on the delivery of a sustainable future food system. 

The ”lack of clarity” and being “drip-fed doom” made it very hard to Ms O’Sullivan to make plans on the farm. She told Ms Barron: “Our plan was based on looking at policy direction, to look at what was going to keep us profitable and happy farming, because otherwise you’d get out of it.”

In closing the conference, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalouge, told delegates that “having an arsenal of technological innovations at our disposal” would assist in delivering global food security.

“When we examine our own national food system, perhaps the greatest challenge we are faced with is that of climate mitigation. Rising emissions are not compatible with the Paris Agreement and every country must contribute. We can’t stand back just because some other countries are, as our grandchildren wouldn’t thank us.

“But despite all the negativity and criticism, we actually have reason to be confident that we can reduce our emissions profile…we know we need very high adoption rates and this will require a major, concerted and urgent effort.”

He told delegates: “You all have a role to play in this. Organisations such as the ASA can lead. My own department will continue to provide the necessary supports and if we unleash the potential of these measures on a national scale, we will put ourselves well on the path to reaching our targets and I know that this is an ambition that everyone in this room shares.”

An enjoyable ASA Banquet

The ASA Banquet was held at Killashee on Thursday evening last, where approximately 500 attendees from the Agricultural Science and Agribusiness sectors enjoyed a meal which proved as good as the company.

During the dinner, the ASA Distinguished Member Award was proudly received by UCD Professor Emeritus Frank Crosby, who regaled the audience with anecdotes from his distinguished academic career.

Meanwhile, Munster Rugby Head Coach Graham Rowntree, along with Munster Defence Coach Denis Leamy, were the after-dinner interviewees, reflecting on the province’s URC Championship victory while casting an eye on Ireland’s prospects at the Rugby World Cup in France.

New ASA President Niamh Bambrick, along with her predecessor Tommy Boland, impressively guided guests through the evening’s formalities. Ms Bambrick, of Mullinahone Co-op, formally succeeded Mr Boland at the ASA’s AGM, which was held at Killashee on Friday last, September 8th. Green Acre Marketing wishes Niamh well in what’s sure to prove a busy and varied term.  

Conference Moderator Damien O’Reilly (EU Affairs with the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society – ICOS) made a wholly relevant comment during the mid-morning session: “Farmers are eternal optimists.”

This was among a host of timely and welcome messages delivered during a conference which focused on current challenges and how the sector as a whole has to embrace contemporary and evolving agricultural developments as positively as possible.   

From left: Ailish Brennan (Lely), Rebecca O’Sullivan (Volac), Una Hickey (Volac), Aileen Barron (MD, Green Acre Marketing), Shóna McGailey, Lisa Meyler and Dermot Keyes (all Green Acre Marketing) at the Agricultural Science Association’s (ASA) Banquet which took place at the Killashee Hotel in Naas on Thursday, September 7th. Photo: Tony Gavin