THE SCIENCE OF SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS
ASA Conference 2023 - Recap
The Agricultural Science Association returned to the Killashee Hotel in Nass, for the 2023 Annual Conference and Banquet. President Tommy Boland welcomed 250 attendees to the conference which was supported by our main conference partner FBD insurance for an interesting and engaging agenda comprising a plenary session and three panel discussions.
The theme of the conference was ‘The Science of Sustainable Food Systems’ and the event was MC’d by long term ASA contributor Damien O’Reilly. The first speaker of the day was Jack Bobo, Director of the Food Systems Institute at the University of Nottingham. Jack spoke about the future of the global food system, the need to feed the global population as it grows to 2050, the fact that consumers have never been more interested in how their food is produced but have never known less about this and discussed the potential benefits that an increase in both supply and demand for alternative proteins could have on animal protein sources. According to Jack, “The farm to fork strategy will result in a 15% reduction in food production and could lead to the EU exporting its environmental footprint to somewhere else such as Brazil, one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world”.
This session definitely left delegates with plenty to consider and set up the remainder of the day’s agenda.
Session 1 entitled ‘defining and addressing the challenge’, sponsored by MSD animal health and chaired by Damien O’Reilly heard from Tara McCarthy Global VP for ESG, Alltech, Jim Bergin, CEO of Tirlán Co-operative Society and Prof. Dolores O’Riordan UCD VP for Global Engagement. Jim Bergin spoke about the concerns of the farming community; they are concerned about what they can do – especially relating to the new dimension presented by technology and increased administrative burdens now facing farmers. He told the delegates that at one stage ‘’If an ageing farmer said to you, ‘I’ll stay at it as long as I can’, it used to be because of health but now it’s because of technology and compliance issues’’. Prof. O’Riordan defined a sustainable diet as one that is “nutritious, safe, good for your health but also good for your environment and the economy” Dolores added that dairy and beef are a part of a sustainable diet, and these animal proteins have a big part to play in it. She added there is a need to reduce the amount of GHG from animal production and that plant proteins can sit side by side with animal ones.
Tirlán sponsored Session 2 before lunch focused on ‘Connecting the consumer and producer: the role of the processing sector’ with Margaret Berry Head of Sustainability of the Kepak Group and Dr. Jeroen Dijkman, Head of Nestle Institute of Agricultural Sciences in conversation with Bill Callanan Chief Inspector at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Bill Callanan introduced the session by stating the farmer is at the center of the required food systems transformation and can feel overwhelmed at the demands placed upon them. Margaret Berry told the delegates of the gap between consumer sentiment about sustainability and consumer action on sustainability with less than 7% of consumers willing to pay a premium for a sustainably produced product. Dr. Jeroen Dijkman expanded the conversation beyond GHG emissions to discuss regenerative agriculture, and how we can we measure and verify regenerative agriculture claims. He shared some details of the Nestle approach to verifying claims re soil carbon, biodiversity etc. involving satellites, sensors and many new technologies as they embark on their €2 billion regenerative agriculture journey.
After lunch Session 3 focused on action at farm level to deliver a sustainable food system. Dr William Minchin, CEO of the Agricultural Trust, steered the panel discussion involving Dr. Stan Lalor, Head of Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, Gillian O’Sullivan, Dairy Farmer and Barry Larkin CEO of the Acorn Group. Alltech sponsored this session where Stan Lalor outlined Teagasc’s three pronged approach to delivering on sustainability, the new climate research centre, the collaborative AgNav tool to estimate emissions and the advisory programme to support technology uptake to reduce gaseous emissions.
Gillian O’Sullivan spoke about the sustainability journey on her own farm and suggested that further research on identifying suitable grass and clover varieties should be carried out. Particularly in the area of the red clover varieties available for forage conservation and grazing
Prior to closing the conference, we were delighted to be joined by Minister Charlie McConalogue, in what was a very busy week for him and his department. The minister highlighted the important role science has to play in ensuring Ireland continues to produce high quality food, in a sustainable manner for a discerning global consumer and that doing so requires a unified approach across the sector. ASA President, Tommy Boland, then brought the conference to a close.
The Agricultural Science Association also acknowledges the generous sponsorship of Goulding’s for our Annual Conference lanyards an Kepak for our conference Lunch.
We would like to thank our Conference Partner, FBD Insurance, and our many other sponsors, without whom it would not be possible to organise this event as well as our Banquet Sponsor, Bord Bia and our main session sponsors, Tirlán, MSD and Alltech.