“The SmartAgriHubs project has been invaluable not just to Walton but to Ireland, as it’s allowed us to build a network of contacts and strong strategic relations with similar partners across Europe.” Hazel Peavoy, Walton Institute, SmartAgriHubs Horizon 2020 project
- Walton Institute, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a major project that is driving the digitisation of the agricultural sector in Europe.
- The SmartAgriHubs project has received €20m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
- With 164 partners, the ambitious project aims to build a network of over 2000 Competence Centres supported by 250 Digital Innovation Hubs and deliver 80 new digital solutions to the market.
Case Study: SMARTAGRIHUBS
Increasing the competitiveness, resilience and sustainability of Europe’s agri-food sector is a prime focus for the European Union as it looks ahead to the challenges of climate change and feeding a growing population. Central to the future success of the sector will be the widespread adoption of innovation and smart-farming techniques but this will rely heavily on interconnectivity and knowledge-sharing across a multitude of stakeholders.
This is the focus of the ambitious €20m SmartAgriHubs Horizon 2020 project. Involving a consortium of 164 partners, including start-ups, SMEs, service providers, technology experts and end-users spread over nine Regional Clusters, the project aims to build a network of over 2000 Competence Centres supported by some 250 Digital Innovation Hubs and deliver 80 new digital solutions to the market.
Walton Institute, a centre for information and communication systems science and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), is leading the Ireland & UK Regional Cluster, with Hazel Peavoy at the helm.
“Part of our role is to identify the Digital Innovation Hubs and Competency Centres across Ireland to build our local network. Digital Innovation Hubs are larger centres that bring together research, funding, business models and services, while the smaller Competency Centres tend to have a single technical service,” she explains.
“The aim is to create a network that will work together on ground-breaking research and innovation. We want to be able to give farmers a clear view of the technologies that may be coming down the line and to ensure they get assistance to apply whatever technology they need to support their activities.”
SmartAgriHubs is also funding a number of Flagship Innovation Experiments through which technology solutions are tested with a view to eventually bringing them to market. The experiments are conducted with the help of the Digital Innovation Hubs and Competence Centres.
The Ireland & UK Regional Cluster is currently running two Flagship Innovation Experiments. The Farm Sustainability Audit is measuring a range of metrics in the dairy industry related to energy and water use, nutrient use efficiency, animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions, while STREAM is applying digital technologies to simplify the production of farmland habitat reports.
“These experiments are helping to bring innovation to the fore. Currently there are three more open calls under SmartAgriHubs that are offering funding for experiments that will drive digital innovation,” says Peavoy.
Connecting the dots
SmartAgriHubs’s full project title is ‘Connecting the dots to unleash the innovation potential for digital transformation of the European agri-food sector’, which highlights the importance of excellent communication and dissemination of information across project partners and stakeholders.
“The project has been very successful with regards to communication. The Regional Cluster leads attend monthly meetings and then we disseminate the information down to other elements of the project. And there are also monthly meetings with the Flagship Innovation Experiments. So we can quite clearly see what’s happening across Europe with the other partners and with agriculture and we can learn from each other,” says Peavoy.
“Having such a large number of partners meant, at an early stage, it took some time to mobilise the consortium but once that was achieved the network has become invaluable to all involved in this sector globally.”
The value of Walton Institute and Ireland
Peavoy believes that taking part in SmartAgriHubs has positioned Ireland and the UK as key drivers for the agri-tech sector across Europe.
“This project has been invaluable not just to Walton but to Ireland, as it’s allowed us to build a network of contacts and strong strategic relations with similar partners across Europe.”
“From a personal perspective, it’s very interesting to see how other countries approach particular problems and to get an insight into what research is required by the sector to meet its future needs,” says Peavoy.
“Likewise, we can see that our partners in SmartAgriHubs are learning from us. For example, the Competency Centres we’ve identified through SmartAgriHubs are often start-ups and SMEs and through WIT’s Technology Gateway they’ve been able to benefit from Enterprise Ireland funding. Our partners in Germany were very interested in how our Technology Gateways function because they don’t have anything like that.
“The SmartAgriHubs partners are also looking at how we’ve created a culture of multi-disciplinary collaboration in Ireland. What was once a landscape of competition has become a landscape of collaboration; A perfect example of that is the VistaMilk Research Centre which has brought together a number of RPO’s to develop new technologies for the dairy sector. I believe that in many ways Ireland is leading the charge in this space and is well-positioned to lead on future Horizon Europe projects linked to agriculture” says Peavoy.