I remarked to a colleague at the recent ASA event that the age profile of the attendees was getting younger, which was refreshing to see. “Or maybe its that you are much older Damien,” was the dry reply. How true.
My first ASA conference was in 1998. This shy, wet behind the ears reporter who is not an agricultural scientist arrived at the hotel in Cork knowing virtually nobody from the world of agriculture having joined RTÉ a few months earlier. I had no clue what was going on. Some would say I still don’t.
But little did I think as I sat at the back of the conference that day 24 years ago that I would one day be on the stage interviewing top scientists about agriculture, which I have been privileged to do over recent years.
In the intervening almost quarter of a century I have interviewed hundreds if not thousands of scientists, farmers and people involved in the agri-food sector.
This once wannabe sports reporter never left the agricultural department and I feel the better for it.
The ASA conference is arguably the main social and networking event on the Irish agri-food calendar and it never fails to impress in terms of informing and meeting and mingling with friends and colleagues.
Yes, the issue of gender balance was a talking point this year but it is part of a bigger challenge facing the sector, the lack of women representatives in top roles, something which has been highlighted in this column on many occasions.
Earlier this year I was hosting the certified Irish Angus beef schools competition in Croke Park. I spoke to the students about my own background.
Croke Park backs on to O’Connells CBS where I attended secondary school. I spoke about how never in a million years would I have envisaged myself standing on stage in the neighbouring stadium hosting an agricultural event 30 years after doing my Leaving Cert there.
I spoke about falling into the agricultural sphere almost by accident and how it has been a blessing for my career in the media.
A few days later, an RTÉ colleague informed me her teenage niece was in attendance and that my speech had inspired her to change her CAO preference to agricultural science.
My own daughter Deirbhile has just gone into third year studying agricultural and environmental science at UCD.
I joke with her that she will be more entitled to attend ASA conferences in the future than I am.
She loves the course and is already mulling over where she will do her work experience after Christmas.
We are on the cusp of the biggest challenges facing Irish farming and food production in a generation. Tackling the terrifying climate crisis will fall heavily on farmers and the agricultural scientists of today and tomorrow. The only upside from the climate crisis is the myriad of opportunities agricultural science graduates will have in finding solutions to the emissions problem.
There plenty of critics quick to point the finger at Irish farmers, farm groups and the processing industry. What they may not know or appreciate is that it is a sector rich with well-qualified young scientists and academics working away behind the scenes collaborating with colleagues from across the world to find solutions to agricultural emissions. They have a most interesting and demanding career ahead with lots of responsibility placed on their shoulders. And they are making me feel old.
With Dessie Dolan, Kevin McStay, Oisin McConville and Colm O’Rourke the latest pundits to go into GAA inter county management, nobody can accuse them of not putting their money where their mouth is!