Opinion: Europe's biggest outdoor agri-business event is basically the Electric Picnic for farmers and should be on everyone's bucket list.

The countdown is on for the National Ploughing Association Championships, which showcase all that is good and great in Irish agribusiness. It takes place at what farmers call the "back end" of the year - think Keats’ "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". Harvest is over, larders for human and beast are full for the winter and farmers can relax and let their hair down for three days at Europe's biggest outdoor agri-business event. It’s basically the Electric Picnic for farmers and should be on everyones bucket list. 

People are either sons or daughters of the soil, with an appreciation for agriculture, or sons and daughters of the concrete, with less of an appreciation for all things farm-related. To attend the Ploughing is to experience the simple joy of the freebies at Aldi’s food marquee, now an institution in its own right. Add to that the craft and artisan food and drink producers offering jams, cheese, breads and cream liqueurs - all Irish and all yummy. 

From RTÉ Archives, a RTÉ News report about the 1977 National Ploughing Championships

It’s an early start for the Ploughing. You’ll rise at 6am and whizz along the motorway with fellow Ploughers, keeping an eye out for the big signs that have been planted in fields beside the motorway that spring up now and again, directing you towards the agricultural Mecca. Gently filter onto roundabouts that have been changed for the day to speed up traffic flow and out onto stony, twisty country roads.

Cars move in single file, corralled like cattle, running only one way until you are directed to a yellow corn-stubble field transformed into a car park christened "hippo red" for the day. Early morning cold mists hang in the fresh air, and music is already wafting across the fields, mixed with the hum of electric generators and wisps of curling smoke rising from the big breakfast marquees. It may sound like Electric Picnic, but no, it’s the Ploughing. 

From RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, a report on the opening of the 2017 National Ploughing Championships

Shortly after arrival, car boots spring wide open in unison to reveal breakfast baskets of sandwiches and flasks of hot, black and strong tea, the sort that could be used to mark the backs of mountain ram lambs. No call for peppermint-flavoured or orange mango teas here. The strike and hiss of a match signals some cigarettes being rolled between big fingers and the tobacco smell mingles with cold breaths and the sound of accents from all corners of the country. 

In the distance, the Ploughing village springs to life. Majestically swaying and hovering above the village are huge hot air balloon blimps, with brand names festooned on their sides beckoning the Ploughers to visit their bazzars. This place is rock'n'roll. Later, there will be quirky announcements on the tannoy system that broadcast and echo around the site. "Someone has left their green Land Rover window down and if there is a spill of rain later, your seat will get all wet and you could catch a chill". Where in the world would you hear the like?

From RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, Aisling Kenny hears about Tinder for bulls and tractor-pool karaoke from exhibitors at the 86th National Ploughing Championships

Competitors are now working their horses. The big hairy-hoofed Clydesdales with names like Dolly and Cissy are straining to the sounds of their masters' tongues and the clicking commands to "go on" or "keep tidy now" as they measure expertly. Deals are now being done; the buying and selling of stock which watch on, passively chewing, and unaware that they are the transaction. The teak-tough dealers go toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, the spitting on the hands, the slapping of palms, the cursing, the smiling like reptiles, the Trumpian hand shake long and hard. No flinching to seal the deal: in this world, your word is your bond and your handshake your contract. No need for non-disclosure agreements here, just plenty of cash. 

There are other reasons to attend the Ploughing. Since 2014, DIT Hothouse has successfully shepherded our academics from the Dublin Region Innovation Consortium (DRIC) to compete at the EI Innovation Arena at the Ploughing against other academic and industry institutions. DRIC technical innovations have won best in class at the Enterprise Ireland Innovation arena in three of the last four years, with these technologies licensed to industry, These include Dr Baljit Singh's BovAlert, an electrochemical device that tests cows milk for liver fluke quickly and cheaply; Flock Guard which has been developed by Dr Robert Ross to improve poultry welfare and profitability, and Slurry Solver, a technology developed by Dr Tom Woolmington to capture methane gas from cow manure enabling it to be monetized.

READ: Will cow poo be more valuable than milk in 2030?

This year, DIRC have have two entries. Prof Andrew Knox and Dr Woolmington's Extractics is a platform separation technology that extracts proteins from underutilised waste streams on farm, while Dr Singh's Toxor is a sensor system to determine the degree of water toxicity and aid in the rapid identification of pollution sources. It would be great to see you at our stand in the EI Innovation Arena at the Ploughing. 


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ