Ireland is both an entrepreneurial and a farming nation. So it’s no surprise to find our farmers are particularly enterprising.
“Our agritech sector is predominantly made up of family-based companies that have taken on challenges in farming, taken risks in devising solutions, and developed their businesses internationally. As a result, it’s a sector that now exports to more than 140 countries worldwide,” says James Maloney, senior development advisor agritech, climate and sustainability at Enterprise Ireland.
While the UK is still Ireland’s biggest market, as it has traditionally been, Irish agritech is expanding its reach around the world, backed by a strong network of trusted distributors and direct on the ground presence.
“Irish agritech is not technology looking for a problem to solve. Its success comes from developing solutions that solve actual problems for farmers,” says Maloney.
“That means agritech that reduces waste, creates efficiencies, improves herd health or provides farmers with a better work life balance.”
Very many are developing smart farming solutions to work in tandem with already proven machinery.
“The more information we can gather as farmers the better using sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics and decision support systems. Traditional engineering strengths, allied to Ireland’s key strengths in ICT, mean that we are increasingly seeing tried and trusted machinery such as balers and mowers with smart technology mounted on them,” he explains.
He points to the Alltech InTouch system by way of example. It combines feed-management software, mixer wagon controller technology and skilled feeding specialists to work proactively with farmers, ensuring the best in feeding accuracy and animal performance.
Each day, InTouch manages the feeding of over 300,000 animals on 2,000 farms across the globe, representing one of the world’s largest feed efficiency databases.
As well as helping to support dairy and beef farmers in the overall management of their herd, InTouch can quickly measure and communicate a number of key performance indicators (KPIs).
The result is less food waste, and greater animal weight gain.
Milking technology company Pearson’s Heat Detection with Health Monitoring wearable device for cows means farmers can give one to one attention to every cow, no matter what size the herd, taking action to optimise insemination.
Dairy farming is an area in which Irish farmers excel. “Irish milk yield, as a result of genomics, or good breeding, has increased from 3,500 litres per cow per year, in 1984, to 5,500 litres today. Giving us, in essence, more ‘miles per gallon’ per cow than ever before,” says Maloney.
“It’s why, when it comes to things like water quality and sustainability on farms, other countries look to what we do here. Aas challenges in agriculture increase, we’ve a lot of credible science behind us here thanks to the likes of Teagasc, Ireland’s state agricultural research agency; Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and really strong academic institutions such as University College Dublin.”
Ireland takes agriculture seriously because it’s so important to our economy.
“It’s why our science has so much to offer developing nations and progressive farmers everywhere. On a global scale, we know that if the world’s population stays at it is, we have to be more efficient in terms of what we use and how we produce protein,” he explains.
“There will be no let up in demand. The world also needs food security, to ensure we can feed our population. The world also needs to minimise the environmental impact farming has on the world. It’s why we are now seeing so many more farms with alternative energy sources, such as solar panels on dairy farms, and the use of red clover in silage swards to help fix nitrogen.”
Irish farmers are open to innovation. “They are very progressive in terms of the decisions they make. But the innovation has to make commercial sense too,” says Maloney.
“It’s why Irish agritech goes through such a well evaluated process, with farmers gathering in Teagasc discussion groups, for example, providing word of mouth examples of what’s working well on other farms.”
Such groups are a seedbed of both innovation and sustainability. “If you look at issues such as over grazing and deforestation worldwide, you can see that one of the advantages we have in Ireland is that we have managed to retain our family farm structure, and our countryside as well. Whether it’s nutrition, soil science, breeding and genomics, Irish companies are delivering the science on to Irish farms, and from there on to farms around the world.”