75250339 - biologist in white coat sitting beside microscope in green house and researching sprouts growth. plant protection concept

It was interesting to read a recent research prioritisation document from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which identified exciting new opportunities including robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, health and wellbeing, smart and sustainable food production and processing, decarbonising the energy system, sustainable living, and advanced and smart manufacturing.

In the horticultural context, all of the above is relevant. Our ability as an industry to adopt and adapt existing technology in production and processing into our sector from other sectors will be paramount in the future. The dependence on labour in horticulture production will need to be reduced in the medium to longer term as labour availability is currently constraining growth in certain sectors.

Enhancing the innovative capacity of Irish based horticultural businesses along with their ability to diversify into new markets has become more critical, particularly in light of Brexit. Smart and sustainable food production is a key consideration in avoiding environmental impacts and satisfying a knowledge-driven consumer who is set on buying products with sound environmental credentials.

In terms of health and wellbeing, as members of the Horticulture Industry Forum (HIF), we are well versed on the potential which exists for collaboration between the medical sector and the horticulture sector to improve public health and at the same time underpin fresh produce horticulture. If the Irish population ate the recommended daily intake of fruit or vegetables (560g), we would have a tripling of demand for fruit and vegetables (€0.75bn) and a major reduction in the estimated €1.64bn cost of obesity to the Irish health system. While large amounts of research funding go towards looking at the human microbiome, probiotics and gut health, significant positive impacts from increased fruit and vegetable consumption have been known for many decades and consumers are moving in greater numbers towards healthier options.

Dermot Callaghan
Head of Horticulture Teagasc
Ashtown, Dublin 15
Ireland, D15KN3K

e-mail: dermot.callaghan@teagasc.ie 
Tel: +353-(0)87-9149966