The agriculture industry faces many challenges. While the global population is forecast to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, land and water resources are limited. There are labour shortages and prices are volatile, yet consumers demand more ethical and sustainable farming models that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As farmers are asked to produce more with less while maintaining profitability, increasingly they are turning to technology to achieve their goals.
The global agritech market was valued at €2.71bn in 2016 and is expected be worth €13.1bn by 2030 (Source: Satellite Applications Catapult), while 70-80% of new farming equipment sold today is equipped with some form of precision farming component.
The Irish agritech sector has a well-deserved reputation for innovative products that enhance the success of traditional farming practices, while also delivering affordable solutions in areas including machinery, farm management software, sensor, grass management, milking, feeding, and water and power management technologies.
Combining tradition with innovation
Keenan Systems is a traditional agricultural manufacturer that has embraced innovation and technology to provide new services for customers around the world. Its pioneering InTouch technology ensures that animals are fed an optimised diet by ensuring they get exactly what they need on a daily basis, while also improving animal performance and providing real-time information to farmers as they work.
Michael Carbery, engineering and innovation manager at Keenan, says, “We reduce the amount of time consumed by the feeding process itself. Most farms today have very varied infrastructure, so you’re looking for a very flexible solution and that’s the avenue we’re pursuing – ensuring that we can upgrade, attach or retrofit our feeding technology to existing machinery.
“Our mix delivers feed efficiency, then with InTouch we’re able to pick up and advise farmers about a particular trend or a drop off in feed or performance in real time. Our InTouch specialists will pick up the phone or message the customer to alert them. We’ve seen cases where people have been able identify where they’ve had sick animals within that particular pen because the feed intake has dropped. That sort of data is really useful from the point of view of managing efficiencies on a farm.”
Integrating technology with traditional farming equipment
Dairymaster has developed a reputation as a global leader in high-tech dairy equipment manufacturing. The Kerry-based company has filed for more than 90 patents for products across milking equipment and cooling tanks, feeding equipment and automatic manure scrapers, and health and fertility monitoring systems.
Fergus O Meara, international business development manager at Dairymaster, says that an innovative approach to integrating technology and traditional farming machinery has helped the company expand into 40 countries worldwide.
He says, “Technology and traditional farming machinery have moved very close together. Our milking and feeding machinery improves cost-efficiency in milking speed and yield while still looking after the cow, but it’s also backed up by monitoring equipment which keeps the farmer in control of their animals and provides them with information when they need it.
“Our MooMonitor system takes about 3.1 million measurements per day per cow, on what her whole digestive system is doing. In terms of milking and feeding efficiency, and nutrition and health, that data is an enormous help to the farmers. They know exactly what’s going on with every cow.”
Helping farmers do the basics better
Prodig Attachments is focused on machinery which addresses more basic concepts as reducing the physical workload for and labour costs on farms.
Prodig director Donny Nolan says, “Data is wonderful, it can track what you’re doing and how profitable you are and what to change but you still need the basic tools to do the work every day. To innovate within those basic tools and come up with new ideas and faster solutions for the basics – the attachments, bailers and other tools – is vital. If you make the basics better, you make the overall better.
“Prodig has a strong focus on multi-purpose machinery. We produce attachments that will do the job of three traditional attachments, so the farmer only has to buy one. These attachments also make the feeding process easier, faster and more economical.”
One new innovator is Moocall who produces wearable sensors that predict the onset of calving. Paul Kenny, international sales manager for Moocall, believes that technology is essential for farmers to be able to handle their workload and maintain profitability.
He says, “Farmers aren’t making enough money to have highly-paid farm labourers so what we’re doing is we’re bridging that gap. Our technology products are providing labour units, they’re keeping farmers in farming and allowing them to handle more management jobs in the farm rather than going out and trying to detect heat five times a day in cows and also going out at night to see if the cows are calving alright. The Moocall does that for them, so they can get more sleep, less accidents, better mental health and more energy the next day to get up and do the other jobs around the farm.”
The trend towards technology
Herdwatch is one of the pioneers of the agritech sector in Ireland, developing the first mobile farm management app to help farmers keep up with paperwork and comply with traceability regulations. The app is now used on more than 8,000 beef, dairy, sheep and tillage farms across the UK and Ireland.
Herdwatch CEO Fabien Peyaud says, “We’re in the realisation phase – there is a definite trend towards farmers realising that technology is the way to go. You’ve got something that never been done before with more than 8,000 farmers paying for a software product that helps them on a daily basis. That’s something that wasn’t done before.”