When your business depends on agriculture, there is only one place to go and try to divine – or influence – the future of your market: Brussels.

The EU doles out €38 billion in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to European farmers each year, and in exchange makes much of the decisions on what they can farm where, at what price and under which environmental requirements.

The narrowing corridor left for farmers to run their business between these constraints is where agricultural technology companies operate. Ireland has been punching above its weight in this category and, for the past year, the industry has been organising more formally under the AgTech Ireland banner.

The voluntary organisation is now planning to hire its first staff to establish a permanent presence and grow membership among both indigenous and multinational companies in this space in Ireland.

“As far as I know, there is no other national ag-tech organisation,” the group’s chairman, Padraig Hennessy, told The Currency during its first trip to the European capital at the end of January. “We’re first to the table, this gives a competitive advantage to our farmers and companies.” Hennessy is chief executive of Terra Nutritech, a Co Kildare-based manufacturer of innovative liquid mineral products for livestock nutrition.

After a 24-hour marathon through the (long and dark) corridors of powers in Brussels, he was confident that the 18 AgTech Ireland member companies had grown their understanding of EU institutions and its influence of their market – and made European officials aware that their businesses stand ready to solve the conundrums emerging from the contradictions in EU policy.

AgTech Ireland gave The Currency full access to its inaugural foray into Brussels. This is what a crash course in EU lobbying looks like from the inside.


Making good use of your time on a trip like this comes down to equally good preparation. AgTech Ireland enlisted the help of Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey – himself a dairy farmer from Co Louth – and the Brussels-based lobbying team of the pharmaceutical multinational MSD, which has Irish operations in both its human and veterinary medicine divisions.

This ensured smooth logistics and a packed day including meetings with four MEPs, five specialist European Commission officials followed by a photo-op with Commissioner Mairead McGuinness, a lobbyist for the powerful Copa-Cogeca EU-wide faming lobby, and a diplomat representing Ireland in Brussels, as well as some time observing the proceedings of a joint meeting between the European Parliament’s committees on agriculture and environment.

How to be a good Brussels lobbyist?

Before they embarked on their tour of EU institutions, the AgTech Ireland delegation received a civil service briefing on how they work and the relevant hot topics on their agenda, including a reform of animal welfare rules and the EU Data Act expected to regulate big data ownership and access in the coming months.

The presentation also included five key points for “successful engagement on EU files”:

  1. Anticipation – be aware of what is coming up. EU legislation takes 18 to 24 months to go through Brussels. Ireland will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2026 and diplomats are probably starting to work on their priorities now.
  2. Technical and procedural know-how – back up your arguments with facts and data, and make sure to pitch them to the right people.
  3. Credibility and representativeness – showing up as an industry group with a large number of companies represented gives you gravitas.
  4. Proactive attitude – some lobby groups say no everything. You’re more likely to succeed by saying “we don’t like this point, but we could do more on this other point”.
  5. A combination of Brussels and member state action – you need to coordinate what you tell EU officials and those back home.

The tension between food production and environmental conservation emerged as the running theme of the day. After one year of sharp food inflation, Copa-Cogeca advisor Patrick Pagani said there was a new sense in Brussles that “food security cannot be taken for granted”. 

Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, who coordinates the Parliament’s agriculture committee, said that the EU’s “responsibility to feed the world – not just our 500 million people” had become a secondary objective in recent years in favour of sustainability initiatives. “Then the war in Ukraine showed that a certain autonomy in food production is essential. We’re back to a more reasonable approach between being sustainable and food security – and that needs technology.”

Irish MEPs offered varying degrees of support for this view. Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said that arguing for food security before the war led to “people looking for white coats to take us away,” but the shock caused by the invasion of Ukraine on food commodity markets had “changed everything” and “softened the view of what is sustainable”.

His Fine Gael colleague Sean Kelly was more cautious, highlighting that “farmers who are very productive feel they’re being punished for being productive, and those on the margins feel the may not survive”. In Ireland, “there is now a push, without saying it, to reduce the national herd through organic expansion” and other indirect measures, he added.

Markey warned that the current realisation of fragility in the agri-food supply chain could go both ways. “People say food security is back on the agenda. Those in favour of the traditional CAP model say ‘told you so’. But those on the environmental side of the argument also say ‘told you so – the system is broken, we need to change it,” he said. “The next CAP will be more about the public good of the environment and how to pay for it,” he added in response to questions from ag-tech entrepreneurs on early preparations for the EU’s next agricultural policy after 2027, now that rules for the current seven-year cycle have been decided. 

There was discussion among AgTech Ireland members afterwards on the reality of this apparent shift in focus among Brussels power circles. Was the view of this small sample of MEPs on the agriculture committee representative of a wider shift in EU policy? And if so, how long would it last?

Padraig Hennessy: “When we talk about helping companies to scale, it’s not from the point of view of the company, but of the farmers.” Photo: Thomas Hubert

As well as absorbing information about this shifting environment, the Irish entrepreneurs focused on getting key points across to Brussels policymakers.

Most immediately, they highlighted the complexity and long timelines involved in accessing EU innovation supports. This was most clearly articulated by Dan Ryan, managing director of Co Cork cattle breeding technology company Reprodoc, who said that his business had given up on accessing European research funds. He said Reprodoc had put so much effort in a failed application that the combined value invested by all failed applicants could be expected to outweigh the benefit delivered to those who succeeded in the process.

European Commission officials acknowledged the difficulty and announced more accessible research programmes, such as one supporting regional “living laboratories” to study the management of agricultural soils with local partners. “There is a move away from previous models where research was linear, from researcher flowing through advisors to the farmers,” said Inga Van Oost of the European Commission’s agricultural administration.

She said there were now more and more projects funded in partnership with member states (pioneered in Ireland by the award-winning Burren Programme) with more autonomy to trickle funding to the local private sector.

More fundamentally, the Irish ag-tech executives in the room highlighted the gap between technologies already developed by their companies to address the challenges tackled by EU policy and their adoption across European agriculture.

“A lot of companies here are established for 10 or 15 years, they have a product ready to scale. They don’t have that opportunity because of the focus on start-ups,” Hennessy told officials, adding: “When we talk about helping companies to scale, it’s not from the point of view of the company, but of the farmers.”

Fabien Peyaud, chief executive of the Co Tipperary-based farm software company Herdwatch, explained that this was down to the fact that “B2F is not B2C nor B2B – farmers are businesses but they act like consumers, it’s one farm at a time”.

The Irish entrepreneurs were adamant that encouraging farmers to adopt the kind of technologies they have developed in a much more systematic way was in the EU’s interest. “To hit climate targets in the next five, 10 and 20 years, the Commission will have to be bolder,” Hennessy said.