Ireland looks more and more to the Netherlands for solutions and technology to achieve its agricultural goals
Ireland prides itself on its green, grass-based livestock production systems. However, in recent years, the focus on climate change, nature restoration and carbon emissions has resulted in increased pressure on the agri-food industry in Ireland. A shift towards more sustainable food systems and reduced carbon emissions has been felt across all sectors within the agri-food industry, says Aoife Feeney, agricultural advisor at the Netherlands embassy in Dublin. This article is part of a series on the agricultural advisors who play a key role in the Netherlands Agricultural Network (LAN) worldwide.
Aoife Feeney joined the Netherlands Agricultural Network in April 2022. She studied Animal Science in University College Dublin and has a Masters in Agricultural Extension and Innovation. Before that she has been working for the last 6 years in the Irish Dairy industry, helping farmers to improve their overall sustainability but particularly environmental sustainability.
Aoife has a strong understanding of Irish agricultural policy and how it is implemented at farm level and the impact it has. She has been involved in policy reviews and public consultations and is an expert in water quality improvement at farm level. She has also been involved in many industry groups giving her a vast network not just in the dairy industry but also in the wider agricultural industry.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Outside of work I enjoy swimming and exercise. During spring and summer I often swim in the Sea in Dublin on the east coast of Ireland where I live. Originally I am from Co. Longford, which is situated in the north midlands of Ireland. I spent my summers as a child on my grandparents beef farm in Co. Roscommon where I developed my love of animals and agriculture and this had a strong influence on my future career path. I am a self-taught artist and enjoy drawing and sometimes painting but nowadays I am quite busy outside of work completing my Nuffield Scholarship.
How did you get the job as an agricultural advisor?
I was approached by a recruiter regarding the job. But before that, in October 2021 I had seen the advertisement for this role in the Dublin Embassy and found it very interesting, however the deadline had already passed so I did not apply initially. I was very pleased to find out later that the role had not yet been filled and was excited by the opportunity it offered.
You are based at the Netherlands Embassy in Dublin, but also part of the agricultural team in London. How does that work?
Working for the Embassy in Dublin means that I cover all agriculture, food and fisheries matters related to the Republic of Ireland and EU policy. But as the Agricultural Counsellor (Philip de Jong) is based in London, I report firstly to London and work very closely with the agricultural team there. This unique way of working gives me the opportunity to work with a larger team and have access to a lot of knowledge and experience as I develop my new role in Dublin. The team in London provides expert guidance on all agricultural matters and we work closely together and meet online weekly.
Equally, I am very much part of the embassy team in Dublin and report to the Ambassador here also. The Dublin team provide me with a clear understanding of the work in Ireland and the ways of working of the embassy. We have a small team so I work closely with all of my colleagues. On a weekly base we discuss policy and trade matters with both the agricultural as the wider team of the whole embassy and keep each other up to date. It is great to be part of two dynamic teams in such a unique manner.
You mentioned that you are a Nuffield Scholar, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Nuffield International is a non-profit organization which goal is to develop leaders to make a difference in the world of agriculture. This work is done by developing the individuals in agriculture who will shape the future of agriculture and our local and global communities. It has a number of member countries of which Ireland (like the Netherlands) is one. Nuffield Ireland’s mission is to discover, inspire and support people to develop their capacity, character and confidence to promote positive change and world class leadership in agriculture, food and farming. I was fortunate to be granted a 2022 Nuffield Ireland scholarship. My topic focuses on changing behaviours to prioritise action to improve water quality at farm level.
How does this contribute to your work as part of the agriculture team?
My Nuffield Scholarship allows me to explore key opportunities and challenges in agriculture all over the world and bring the learnings back home. It also allows me to build my network both locally and internationally including the Netherlands where there is a strong network of scholars through Nuffield Netherlands who I’ve gotten to know quite well. In my role as agricultural advisor this network allows me to better understand Dutch farming and the challenges it faces and also has given me contacts in industries I did not have before both in Ireland and abroad.
My topic on water quality is one of the main challenges facing agriculture in Ireland but is also one facing Dutch agriculture so my hope is that the learnings I take home for Ireland will also be relevant for the Netherlands and I hope to present these findings later in 2023.
What is your focus for the next few years in your role as Agricultural Advisor?
In the short term I hope to increase the visibility of Ireland as a country of interest for Dutch agri businesses and continue to develop the bi-lateral co-operation between the Netherlands and Ireland on policy matters. Longer term, I hope to develop the portfolio in agriculture for the Dublin embassy through various events and network building. I want to identify opportunities for Dutch businesses in specific areas in the Irish agricultural sector and communicate those to relevant sectors.
What are the main challenges for the Irish agriculture sector?
Ireland prides itself on its green, grass-based livestock production systems. However, in recent years, the focus on climate change, nature restoration and carbon emissions has resulted in increased pressure on all industries but particularly on the agri-food industry in Ireland which is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s). In May 2019, the Irish government declared a National Climate and Biodiversity Emergency making it the second country in the world to do so. As a result, a shift towards more sustainable food systems and reduced carbon emissions has been felt across all sectors within the agri-food industry. In July 2022, the Irish Government agreed a target of a 25% reduction in carbon emissions for the agricultural sector by 2030.
Currently the energy and cost of living crisis is impacting key sectors such as pigs, poultry and fisheries. The wider environmental issues are focused on water quality, carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. Maintaining intensive animal production systems while balancing these issues is a challenge.
'There is ample opportunity for Dutch companies to provide solutions and innovations'
What are the agricultural links between Ireland and the Netherlands and are there opportunities for Dutch businesses?
There has long been admiration for the Netherlands agricultural industry from Ireland especially given our export oriented agricultural industries being the largest indigenous industries. There are already strong links between both countries in areas of R&D and more recently a joint venture between Royal Aware and Tirlan. But as both countries face enormous challenges in the viability and sustainability of their agricultural sectors, Ireland looks more and more to the Netherlands as a leader in agri-tech and innovations for solutions and technology that will help the industry here achieve its goals.
In which particular sectors do you see opportunities in the field of innovation and technology?
There is ample opportunity for Dutch companies to provide solutions and innovations. Particularly in the livestock sector, there is a need for technology for herd management monitoring systems that benefit animal health and welfare. Manure management in Ireland is still not optimal and the evolution to more modern technology systems has been slow. This offers opportunities for knowledge exchange and for Dutch manure technology companies to show case their products in Ireland.
Renewable energy at farm level has gained increased focus with the current EU energy crisis. Funding is now available to farmers to install solar PV which means more opportunities for technology providers and knowledge sharing between both countries.
Agroforestry and alternative forestry revenue models in combination with agriculture and wider nature restoration goals is becoming more popular in Ireland. While it still requires some research and exploration, it provides opportunities for Dutch experts to exchange knowledge, learnings and technology in this space.
Agricultural team Ireland
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