Ministers O’Donovan, McConalogue and Heydon Announce SFI Funding for Centre for Sustainable Digital Technologies at TU Dublin

Published: 14 May, 2024

On Tuesday, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Patrick O’Donovan TD, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue TD, announced a €104 million investment in scientific research.

The funding is being allocated to four SFI Research Centres, including the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre, which will include researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Digital Technologies at TU Dublin investigating using AI technology to digitise Dairy production and processing.

Dr Steven Davy, Research Centre Manager and Strategic Director at the Centre for Sustainable Digital Technologies, says the recent emergence of AI, specifically large language models (LLMs) that can recognise and generate text, can potentially have tremendous value in many industries.

“However, in industries such as agriculture, where data is real-time, complex, and often dispersed across multiple systems, LLMs can be costly and prohibitive. This project will investigate how advanced LLM techniques can facilitate better dairy processing while maintaining data privacy and security. By tailoring LLMs for use in dairy production, we hope to unlock the value of AI for better decision-making and productivity in complex, distributed data environments.”

This project, which will support a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, will collaborate with stakeholders from the dairy processing and production industry over a four-year period.

Commenting on the announcement, Minister O’Donovan said: The bioeconomy, agrifood, neurological disease and manufacturing are each critically important to how we function as individuals and how we develop our economy. While significant scientific advances have been made in these areas by Ireland’s research ecosystem, we need to remain vigilant in addressing challenges old and new, and turning these opportunities into real world impacts that people can see and feel.”  
He added: “Today’s investment results from close collaboration between individual researchers, research teams, research institutions, industry and government departments. I warmly welcome this multilayered partnership approach and wish, in particular, to thank industry for their integral role.” 
Minister McConalogue stated: My Department is proud to commit over €8.7 million in co-funding to the SFI Research Centre programme. Supporting VistaMilk SFI Research Centre over the next six years will help drive the development and deployment of digital technology to improve the sustainability and competitiveness of dairy production and processing in Ireland. This progress will help to secure a sustainable food system that delivers safe and nutritious dairy products, positively impacts the environment and safeguards viable livelihoods for primary producers and rural communities.”  
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with special responsibility for Research and Development, Martin Heydon TD, commented:
“I warmly welcome the announcement today of Phase 2 funding for the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre for Digitalising Dairy Production and Processing. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has co-funded this Centre since it first began in 2018. It has a strong focus on soil, pasture, animal and food research, and this announcement will allow this collaboration to continue in Phase 2 and I look forward to seeing the outputs of the research over the coming six years.”  
Welcoming the announcement, Deputy Director General of SFI, Dr Ciarán Seoighe, said: “The continued investment for these four SFI Research Centres follows a rigorous and extensive expert international peer review process of scientific excellence and strategic impact of each Centre. The four Centres represent a national research network of 17 host and partner institutions that, to date, has collaborated with over 130 industry partners, ranging from SMEs to multinationals, across all regions and in a variety of sectors. Research Centres play a vital role in developing and nurturing the next generation of research leaders and innovators, and today’s funding awards will support over 600 researchers at senior researcher (PIs), post-doctoral, PhD and MSc levels.”   

Read the full statement here.