The group consisted of 2nd year BSc (Hons) students, studying Agricultural Technology at the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise. The goal of the college’s annual European study tour was to give students a European perspective on a range of agriculture-related issues, including technical and scientific innovation, the impact of Brexit, and supports given for rural development.
The students sat in on an Agricultural Committee meeting of the European Parliament and had an opportunity to network with MEPs and staff from the European Commission.
They also met policy advisers from the British Agricultural Bureau and the Irish Co-Operative Organizational Society, who discussed their role in informing their respective members at home and lobbying on their behalf on policy matters.
They visited a diversified arable business that grows and processes oilseed rape, using it to make salad dressings which are sold throughout Belgium.
Other visits included an independent cheese maker, the Belgian Blue Bull Breeding Station in Ciney, a chocolate producer in Brussels, and an unforgettable tour of BelOrta, the largest cooperative auction in Europe, as well as the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven.
There was history and culture, as well as agriculture. The group also took an enlightening tour of the battlefields around Ieper.
Follow-up workshops, organised by Irish College Leuven, encouraged students to think about both culture-specific and transferable practices. So, if the focus of Herent Research Station is the unique vegetable Belgian endive, its research topics, such as waste valorization and innovative crops, offer ideas to try out back home.
The trip encouraged students to think broadly about the food economy, how to produce, ingredients, products, markets, and consumers all interact.
Meeting the actual people who form and influence Europe’s agricultural policy helped turn theory into real-life for them, underlining how important it is to be plugged into this network.
Likewise, being able to engage first-hand with farmers, food producers, and policymakers, seeing how things are done differently from one culture to another, was a transformative experience. It helped students to think outside the box and to develop the initiative and flexibility demanded by today’s fast-moving, globalized agri-industry sector.