A digital innovation hub, specialising in precision agriculture, has been announced for the southeast region of Ireland.

The Precision Agriculture Centre of Excellence (PACE) will be located in Kilkenny to drive the digital innovation of Europe’s agri-food sector.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan announced that the hub will receive €30m in funding under the Horizon 2020 programme.

PACE will also have access to cascade funding that will be coming on stream early next year through the smart agri hubs projects and others to be announced in the near future.

Launching Waterford Institute of Technology's Precision Agriculture Hub in Kilkenny Professor Willie Donnelly from WIT, Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan and Colette Byrne from Kilkenny County Council

"Smart use of knowledge, research and innovation is the main source of productivity growth in the EU agri-food sector," Commissioner Hogan said.

“Precision agriculture has never been more important in an industry facing challenges posed by climate change, ecosystem degradation and world population growth, as well as the growing need to produce more using less.

"With facilities like PACE, we are building a network of digital innovation hubs across Europe to accelerate this digital transformation.”

The new hub is being led by Waterford Institute of Technology’s (WIT) ICT research wing Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG).

WIT president Prof Willie Donnelly said PACE “will serve agri-food processors, farm advisory services, companies selling services and products to the agri sector, agri-tech SMEs, start-ups and rural-based industries which have the potential to transform into higher technology and higher value businesses."

"PACE will also serve regulatory, compliance and policy authorities by providing a technology resource to support their mission.”

The new hub will initially be located in St Kieran’s College before being moved to Abbey Quarter in Kilkenny city, where hot-desk facilities and additional space will also be provided for spin-out enterprises.

“PACE will have the capability to identify existing technologies which are of interest to the sector - including the internet of things, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence - and assess their suitability for deployment in the Irish agricultural sector,” Professor Donnelly said.

Kilkenny County Council is also a partner in PACE.

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