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Minister Coughlan outlines committment to Research

"Investment in research is key to the future of farming and the food industry"- Coughlan

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, today outlined her commitment to research in the Agriculture and Food sector and stressed its importance to the future of farming and the food industry in Ireland. Minister Coughlan was announcing details of the Sectoral Programme for Agriculture and Food, which is part of the overall Government Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013.

Speaking at the Teagasc Headquarters in Oakpark, Carlow, where she also formally opened the new Teagasc Plant Biosciences Facility, the Minister highlighted the importance of the Strategy explicitly recognising that the development of a profitable and sustainable Food and Agriculture sector is vital to Ireland's economic well being. This commitment will result in a major investment for Agriculture and Food research and development in the new National Development Plan.

Minister Coughlan said that a record €97m had been provided in research funding for Teagasc, Third Level institutions competing in the Agri-Food Research programmes and her own Department programmes in 2006. This is an increase from the ?85m provided for such research in 2005.

Teagasc is central to the implementation of the Strategy for Agriculture and Food and the Minister intends that the organisation will continue to develop and be well placed to meet the challenges ahead, particularly with the development of its Centres of Excellence. Minister Coughlan confirmed that a fund of €27m, arising from the sale of some Teagasc assets, would be retained by Teagasc and reinvested in upgrading its research resources and capability.

Further emphasising her commitment to research and innovation, Minister Coughlan said that new awards totalling €30m in the FIRM Food Research Programme, €18m in the Stimulus Production Research Programme and €7m in the COFORD Research Programme are being made, details of which she will be announcing in the near future.

The Minister said she was speaking at a time when the agriculture sector faces many challenges and is in a period of unprecedented change. "If we want to be successful in the years ahead, investment in research is not optional, it is a necessity. This was spelt out very clearly in our Agri-Vision 2015 Action Plan, and we are proceeding fast with delivery. The priority is to ensure that the industry will operate to the highest standards, built on a strong foundation of modern scientific knowledge, skills and innovative practices so that it remains competitive in the global marketplace."

Turning to diversification in agriculture, the Minister said she was pleased that development of non-food land use is also part of the Strategy. "Ireland will need to reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels and to develop sustainable energy alternatives. This provides opportunities for the agriculture sector, and it is an area I am very committed to. Opportunities exist in growing biomass for heat and electricity generation, and in growing other field crops for bio-diesel and bio-ethanol. In the longer term, crops and technologies for the production of fibre, bio-degradable plastics and other chemicals will become feasible. In this regard, I have already provided funding under the Research Stimulus Fund to examine the potential to diversify into non-food crop production."

Concluding, the Minister said that taking all these initiatives together, it is clear that the Strategy on Science Technology and Innovation represents an historic opportunity for this country and for the whole Agriculture and Food industry. "I believe it will invigorate the agriculture and food research community. It will encourage young researchers and provide sufficient commitment to spark the ideas and technologies that will fuel our economy into the future. More particularly, I have no doubt that it will help farmers and agri-food businesses to compete in the modern marketplace. Farmers and those involved in the food industry are well used to overcoming challenges through embracing innovation and I can assure all involved in the sector that we are committed to working with them in partnership to build a successful and viable future."

10 August, 2006

Date Released: 10 August 2006