Teagasc Oakpark Tillage Event June 2019

As readers of these posts will know we are all about #smartrural. We are always on the lookout for ideas and methods or in fact anything that will help to have a positive impact on the lives of the people living in rural communities.

We were pleased to visit the Teagasc open day in Oakpark in County Carlow to see what the researchers are up to and to see how it may impact on rural lives in the future.

It was a wonderful day supported by wonderful interested and engaged farmers.

So just a list of bullet points we feel will impact in the future

  • Farmers are using less chemical fertiliser
  • Farmers are using less pesticides
  • Farmers continue to raise yields with less inputs giving hope that the world of 10 billion can be fed.
  • Techniques to develop natural predators of pests are ongoing and showing some promise
  • Plants and methods that reduce weeds in a natural way are being discovered and researched for farm implementation.
  • Machines continue to get more expensive, more complicated and more precise
  • Regulations continue to increase
  • Irish tillage farmers are still far ahead of most other EU farmers in terms of yield
  • Plant breeders are doing very exciting work using new non GMO techniques
  • Bees are starting to make a return as they are treated for the mite that was weakening them and as they build resistance
  • new chemicals will come to market
  • efficacy of some older chemicals is less than 30%
  • Forestry as sitka is not popular but many farmers would love to widen their natural hedgerows if there was a sequestration credit available.
  • Soil Organic Matter and increasing it is of great interest to tillage farmers
  • Min till, no till, cover crops are all seen as interesting and will spread as the skills needed and the benefits realisation is clear.
  • Precision farming is getting better and cheaper with every iteration and will become standard practice.
  • Building healthy and productive soils is very high on farmers priorities.
  • Farmers are rising to the challenge of producing more food in the next 40 years than they produced in the last 8000 years.


So there is an agreement with 4 South American countries (Mercosur) for free trade. Quite an achievement especially when added onto the Japan and Vietnam trade deals.
But for Irish beef farmers this one seems to be a big problem. The word devastating is used. Devastation to my mind conjures up images of empty fields and beef farmers out of business.
But is that the case?
So we see up to 99,000 tonnes of beef can come into the EU from these 4 countries in the future tariff free.

So EU has population of 512.6 million people as at January 2018. So first number is how many kilos of beef is coming in per person? My calculator is not great at long numbers but it tells me 0.19 kg for every man woman and child. In a year.
In old money that is less than half a LB.

So meat consumption in EU is 65 kg per capita. So that does look significant as 0.19/65 is nearly 0.3% of all meat consumption. On the pure beef consumption it is 1.25% of all beef consumed in the EU. Beef is only a fraction of the meat consumed in the EU.

In 2018 there was 270,000 tonnes of beef imported from Mercosur. That had a tariff of course. So now 99,000 tonnes of this will come in tariff free. So what will the Mercosur exporters do? Will they cut the price to reflect the tariff drop? Will they maintain their price and take the extra profit? Will they share the tariff drop to fund/subsidise more tariff paid exports?

It is important to know the answer. Ireland exports 470 to 560k tonnes of beef. In 2017 there was a largish rise in tonnes exported due to an extra 100,000 animals. This is likely to continue. So any price drop on any or all of this is very significant. Do we assume that the 99,000 tonnes will reduce the price paid for Irish exports? Clearly this is the fear of the Irish producer.

There is further concern that the 99,000 tonnes may be the best quality steak cuts. And if these come in at a lower price it is likely to have a knock on effect on the price of the other cuts.

Everyone recognises this trade deal will have an impact. What the impact is will be clear in time.

The world is increasing beef consumption as wealth and population rises. This is particularly true of China. There is a FAO forecast that there is a 0.5% increase in global consumption every year. It will reach exports of 10 million tonnes in 2019.
The 99,000 tonnes is 1% of this.
So problems ahead. Cost impacts are likely.
The classic answer is to go upmarket . It is clear that the work of Bord Bia with its Origin green scheme is going to be a major factor in getting Irish beef out of the commodity end. The quality of beef, its trace-ability and environmental friendliness will be key to going upmarket.
There is a fund of 1 billion Eur available. Ireland should lean into that heavily and get their product branded. Designation as origine controle (AOC) or getting some geographic designation may be a key strategic goal to get consumer recognition up.
Some form of future contracts might be beneficial too. Far too often Irish farm producers are simply selling stock onto a spot market with few if any alternatives.
This is a good way to get hammered by powerful buyers especially when there are huge seasonal swings in supply.
The impact is clear, prices will be affected. The extent is completely unknown. The Irish industry needs to continue to work to get quality, reliability and value up. Farmers will continue to do their part and will increase efficiency and value of the raw material. The resistance of consumers to the removal of rain forest for soya growing and animal grazing may create a negative attitude towards the South American beef. This could be exploited by a quality Irish product and will help add to the Irish premium image.
If farmers can also get a good scheme to measure and show the carbon sequestration effects of grazing compared to deforestation then a new market advantage may be discovered from this development.
Winning the hearts and minds and pockets of the EU consumer is key. The new adage of produce locally and sell globally has never been more clear!

Special assets in your community

Another video (Get it here) in the series, rebuilding community. The series is designed to set out a range of projects and ideas that can be used to try to stop the depopulation of rural areas. Some recent research suggests that villages under 500 people are beyond saving. Sadly we have heard even higher figures in more developed countries.

Some have stated that if under 1500 then it is already beyond saving. AS mega cities grow we need to save our rural areas. These are more environmentally friendly and make it easier to enjoy fresh air, no commuting, local food. A better life in our view.

IRL (Irish Rural Link) Climate change

The excellent organisation held a well attended conference on Rural Ireland and what it can do about climate change in Athlone on May 27, 2019. This is a subject close to our heart.

A great review of lots of projects underway, lots of understanding of the extent of the problem. a nice presentation by Mr. Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner about what might be available in terms of financial supports down the road.

A very diverse group of attendees and all on the days when the ‘green swing’ in the EU parliament elections were being noticed and new MEP’s were being elected.

One small critique, no great call to action , from the speakers. The organisation itself is calling for a climate summit of all parties in Ireland to try to get behind some common goals. From there plans can be made.

Some key takeaways for us.. Electricity decarbonisation is not in the hands of the ?Irish Government but is being managed by EU.

Our main (our being Irish Government and citizens) action zones are in transport and agriculture. That is where the changes must occur.

Ireland is the worst in Europe at decarbonising its economy. We produce more tonnes of CO2 per head than most of our European colleagues.

Some disturbing thoughts. But we are an inventive people and will find a way to get in front of the pack and lead!

Part 3 of Building community

Project 3. Using the power of photographs, before and after agile project management,  to build a rural community and even to help to rebuild it. Using #5g technology, the #IoT, and building off other #smartcities type of projects to try to offer simple actionable projects for #smartrural communities to do. Here is the video.

Project 2 in community

So here we are with Video two , outlining a community project that can be used to help rebuild rural communities. Again we are looking at #smartrural, #smartcities #futureofwork, #tourism, #Iot to try to get a feeling for how these can help in communities.

Rebuilding communities video

Rebuilding- some ideas. We hope to make a series of videos outlining the projects that we feel may be useful in setting out on the journey to rebuild or maintain a community.

Of course all of these require work, but we hope by setting in out in projects we can help get the structures in place for leaders and others to get going.

Eventually we can get templates as we hear and watch projects get deployed in communities

In general we feel that you need to start with information gathering, to begin the process. But don’t spend too long at this stage. There is work to be done!!

So here is the first video. Let us know what you think!

The need for amenities

We have been researching a bit about towns and villages that are succeeding in growing or regrowing their communities. There are not many examples sadly and far too many examples of the decline of populations and communities are far too common.

It has been suggested that economics are driving the flight from the country to the city. But we hope that people and community are not mere ciphers. That there is a delight and a desire to form social groups of friends, family, and neighbours. These were the heart of villages and communities and indeed are the opposite of the anonymity of the metros.

The main point of this note is that villages and towns that wish to recover will need to plan not only for work, which is growing with all the companies setting up distributed and remote workers, and not only for health and education, but also for amenities.

If people are deciding to move from a city to a rural base then they have many decisions to make and the community needs to help them with that. Housing, work, education need to be available and connected to the advantages that are obtained in the cities. A key tipping point is special and attractive amenities. Communities with special natural attractions and associated activities appear to be benefiting. Strong communities with say lots of beaches and sunshine for leisure hours are attractive to silver citizens, The same beaches can be attractive to younger surfers and kite boarders.

Some communities develop activities around the mountains with skiing in winter and biking and hiking in the summer. Still others develop their wildlife and natural surroundings to be attractive and to be a key advantage for people moving to the area. Others can work on yoga, creative writing, fresh air and produce or communities that are busy in the area of green or other cultural activities. Still others follow the basis of strong universities or research centres where excellence is the norm

People with similar interests tend to want to stay together. If you can develop a community feature or special benefit then that will get the initial seeds sown to make your town or village become a destination.

It’s a new challenge and one that we will come back to in future posts

Innovation and development

A big mouthful of words and one that can immediately scare most people off! But it does not have to be frightening. Unless of course you want to reinvent google or something. Now that could be a bit of a tall order.

It could be argued that it is easier than before thanks to technology. and remember that is the point of smartrural, to use technology to assist us humans in the countryside so we can prosper and continue to enjoy to live in the place we love.

The first step, to my mind is to do something you don’t normally do. Change the channel if you will. If you ahve a routine say of having an evening meal and then having a watch of netflicks or your computer before going to sleep, then change it. Get up go someplace different and see what other people are doing. Go to the cinema, go to a restaurant, go to a hotel and see what is going on. Who is there, are they spending money, why are they there, could they be somewhere else, could you do anything to make them have a better experience (legally of course). Write it down. Do the same at the weekend, if you normally shop in one supermarket in local town, go someplace else. See what else is going on.

If you use online shopping do something else. Look for the craziest products on the internet. Write them down, talk to others about them. If you normally jsut say hi to your neighbours change it, ask them can they take a walk with you to the local corner store? Tell tehm about this stuff, listen if they have stories back.

Sign up for things you never did before. Change the thoughts in your head. The ideas will come. Most of the best ideas are so obvious when you see them first you can be sure you will believe someone is already doing them.

Do not have huge expectations. But do set a basic target of at least earning money for the time you invest pretty quickly.

Get a side gig. Help someone who has a side gig. Volunteer.

Write down any ideas you have of pain people feel or how something can make them have an easier life.

Change your news sources, if you read the paper of record, change it to another one, ideally selling more. IF you listen to the same radio show every day, change it, find one with more listeners and listen to that. Write down how you feel about it. See if these can be turned into solutions, because others probably have the same feelings needing solutions.

Listen to podcasts about start ups, go to any start up event you can. The energy is infectious (in a good way)

Don’ be afraid to fail, just write down what you learned and start again. Write down what you see for about 3 months, then review it. See are there any gems, are there any synergies with something from this month and something from last month

Development and innovation are jsut two words. Its not jsut for someone else. It can be you. Ask! watch, listen. Innovation can be tiny small little idea or improvement on existing one. Development is about getting that out so others can also use it. The trade is they then pay you for making it happen. Its a fair trade.

Get a mentor, ask someone you like or someone you think can add to your skills. Most people love to help other people. It is one of the most satisfying feelings.

Don’t become so secretive that you think you cant talk about your idea for fear someone else will steal it. The more you talk about it the more help you will get and also you will win the court case if lots of people heard you talking about it first!