Visitors to the Ceide Fields, a globally unique archaeological site in Co. Mayo, see evidence of field systems and animal enclosures dating back more than 5,000 years. That’s 2000 years before the Pyramids.
It’s a farming heritage that spans more than 200 generations and is the seedbed for not just Ireland’s world class agri-food sector but its world leading agritech innovation.
“Ireland is a country that punches above its weight when it comes to farming. For a small island, we have a surprisingly diverse range of farming activities and soil types, and we face a variety of agricultural challenges as a result,” explains James Maloney, senior development advisor agritech, climate and sustainability at Enterprise Ireland.
When it comes to farming, Ireland also has some enormous advantages over other countries. For example, our mild, temperate climate means we can grow grass nine months a year, an exceptional feat which contributes to the strength of our dairy and beef industry.
It also enables Irish farmers to make circular use of the natural slurries such industries produce.
“We optimise pasture management, nutritional inputs and soil management in such a way that helps to increase biodiversity and reduces our use of chemical fertilisers,” he adds.
The strength of Irish agriculture is the foundation stone upon which Ireland’s food and drinks industry is based, with half of Ireland’s exports coming from food and drinks, worth circa €13.5 billion annually.
One of the contributions Ireland makes is as a source of food of exceptional range and quality – a country of five million people estimated to feed 35 million.
Ireland exports 90 per cent of all the beef produced here. It exports 8.5 billion litres of milk. Ireland is one of the world’s leading producers of infant baby formula, producing 10% of worldwide supply in a sector in which quality is uniquely critical.
“Ireland is a really good and trusted food brand, trusted to produce really good raw materials,” explains Maloney.
“What’s more, some 70 per cent of the raw materials of our food industry are sourced locally in this country, making us very lucky from a sustainability point of view.”
Ireland’s dairy industry is one of the world’s best performing countries in terms of low-emission milk production. In a study of 18 countries the average producer scored 1.47 kg CO2e per kg FPCM (fat and protein corrected milk). Ireland scored 1.07 kg, in that report, Teagasc has challenged the model for this calculation the latest figures now available tell us that our emissions are at .97 kg CO2e per kg FPCM, arguably the best in Europe and maybe the world.
As a nation of farmers, where most people are still just one or two generations from the land, it’s little wonder that Irish scientists have such a strong focus on developing innovative agritech solutions.
Irish farmers are open to innovation too. “If a solution makes financial sense and solves a problem on the farm, Irish farmers will use it,” says Maloney, who comes from a farming background himself.
That attitude was seen in action during the early days of the global Covid pandemic, he points out, when livestock markets closed.
“Within weeks MartEye, an Irish company, was developed to manage the running of online markets,” he says.
The product, developed by a group of agricultural software engineers in partnership with AgriCam.ie, a hardware company, is now trusted by over 70 auction centres and relied on by over 120,000 buyers across four countries.
“It’s a perfect example of an Irish farmer’s can-do attitude in action,” he says.
The development of decision support systems is another area in which Irish businesses are excelling.
Micron Agritech, a spin out from Technological University Dublin, is leveraging digital technologies to enable onsite parasite testing of animals, with results back within half an hour.
Using a proprietary AI model trained to accurately detect the eggs, nothing like it exists to support farmers and vets in agriculture on the market currently. “As well as checking parasitic levels, it helps in the reduction of antibiotic use on farms,” says Maloney.
Kerry based Brandon Bioscience discovers and develops beneficial marine biostimulants for improving plant traits, thereby increasing crop yields.
Brandon is focused on abiotic stress tolerance, crop yield maximisation and nutrient use efficiency. It uses PSI (Plant Signal Induction) technology to deliver grower-led agronomic solutions that are proven by science, helping to develop next generation biostimulants that are smarter, more efficient and bioactive.
Put simply, it has developed a technology akin to biological software that upgrades a plant’s natural responses to specific climatic or growth challenges. Its use can boost a crop’s uptake of nitrogen, for example, reducing the cost of inputs.
“Costs are a real concern for farms right now, with fertilisers, diesel, energy, and shipping costs all up, and that’s on top of supply chain issues,” he says.
Solutions that can help keep the cost of farming down are more important than ever right now, and Irish agritech is helping to develop them. Put simply, Irish agritech is outstanding in its field.