The need to bridge the disconnect between farmers and consumers was highlighted by multiple speakers at the Nuffield Ireland conference on Friday.

Minister of State for land use and biodiversity in the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett complimented the conference theme of ‘Finding Common Ground’ as particularly timely.

“We see the debate in agriculture in particular, we are so polarised at times and that doesn’t really serve anyone.

"It serves those who want to either stay in the status quo or it serves those who aren't interested in a long-term plan,” Minister Hackett told the conference attendees at the Mount Wolsey Hotel in Carlow.

Common ground

“I think finding that common ground with the scholars who come through Nuffield, I think that’s going to play a big role in how we do that and deal with those challenges that lie ahead.”

She added that it was vital to bring international research and knowledge back to Ireland.

“The Nuffield scholarship is a fantastic programme that gives an opportunity for Irish farmers to travel internationally, see what farmers in other parts of the world are doing and bringing that knowledge back to Ireland is vital.”

Minister Hackett added that the agricultural sector must continue to innovate in response to challenges that face not only this sector, but society as a whole.

Controlling the narrative

In her keynote address, Dr Amy Jackson, 2012 Nuffield UK scholar and director of communications at consultancy firm Oxtalem, outlined that change is needed to get over the disconnect between consumers, urban dwellers and farmers to find common ground.

Amy Jackson, director Oxtale and Nuffield UK 2012 scholar, encouraged delegates at the Nuffield Ireland conference in Carlow to be brave in order to find a common ground to engage with consumers on environmental issues centred on building relationships, accountability and transparency.

“I think the main thing is to accept the fact the industry is going to have to change because the weight of the climate change and environmental arguments coming at it is so big and so global. The way you get in control of these things is by getting in front of them,” Jackson told the Nuffield conference.

Touching on the importance of Irish farmers in bridging the disconnect between consumers and urban dwellers, she said opportunities lie in environmental credentials.

“It’s so important because you’re not just dealing with domestic markets, you’re dealing with a global market and those markets are going to be looking for products that have got good environmental credentials. This is one of the best places in the world to produce lamb, beef, milk and that’s an opportunity [for Irish farmers]”.

Padraig Walshe award

To honour the late Padraig Walshe - former IFA president and agri-industry leader - a new award in his honour was introduced at the conference.

As voted by attendees, the Padraig Walshe award for best speaker on the day was Lance Woods, whose study was on how animal health could help to address climate change goals.

Woods is ruminant marketing manager with MSD Ireland and received his award from Ella and Pat Walshe on the day.