New partnership will provide beekeepers with a solution for connected apiaries globally.

Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications has announced a new partnership with ApisProtect, an Irish agritech innovator who deploys Internet of Things (IoT) technology to monitor the health of honey bees. This collaboration aims to develop a globally scalable IoT solution for connected apiaries, to help stem the significant decline of bee populations and increase crop production worldwide.

Contributing an estimated $174 billion to the global agri-food industry annually, honey bees play an essential role in global food production. One-third of all food that is consumed worldwide depends on pollinators, such as bees, and there are 91 million managed beehives worldwide. However, US commercial beekeepers alone have experienced declines of 38% in colonies in 2015-2016.

ApisProtect’s solution for reducing colony loss

ApisProtect has developed a solution that reduces colony loss, improves the yield of commercial beekeeping, and makes apiaries much easier to manage. Inmarsat is supporting ApisProtect as the global connectivity partner, ensuring the solution can be deployed anywhere on the planet. ApisProtect brings the power of advanced sensors and machine learning technology into the hive to deliver a 24/7 early warning system so beekeepers can give at-risk hives immediate attention and improve bee health, giving beekeepers actionable insights and alerts to help prevent losses and increase colony productivity.

The solution consists of an ApisMonitor Unit that sits in a beehive and is connected to an analytics platform optimised for measuring honey bee health via Inmarsat’s Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) and Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) connectivity. This, in turn, feeds into a machine learning algorithm for early detection and mitigation of bee health issues.

The next phase for Inmarsat and ApisProtect

Inmarsat and ApisProtect are making a joint investment in the next phase of the project to demonstrate effectiveness of the data collection and analysis across diverse climates and bee species, spanning Ireland, the UK, the EU, the US, and South Africa ahead of a commercial launch in late 2019. The project includes collaboration with some of the world’s foremost bee researchers and organisations and is already monitoring the health of over 10 million honey bees in hives across Europe, South Africa, and North America.

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, Co-founder, and CEO of ApisProtect, discussed the importance of the project: “Without a healthy bee population there could be severe food shortages across the world, which is why we have developed an advanced system to monitor current population levels and provide real-time insights, to help beekeepers increase the health and productivity in their colonies. ApisProtect will provide beekeepers with actionable insights that will brief them on the condition of their hives, identify problem colonies and suggest a variety of actions to keep their colonies healthy and prevent losses, providing a 24/7 early warning system. This also enables them to make earlier interventions in the event of a problem, leading to reduced costs.”

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, Co-founder, and CEO of ApisProtect

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, Co-founder, and CEO of ApisProtect

“Many hives are situated in remote locations globally and we needed a partner who could support our project with Industrial IoT expertise and a variety of connectivity technologies. Inmarsat is delivering highly reliable hybrid satellite/cellular and LoRaWAN technologies to ensure that we can provide services to beekeepers no matter how remote their location. Additionally, the mobile nature of Inmarsat’s services means that if hives need to be moved for pollination purposes, we can still continue to deliver hive data with minimal disruption.”

Paul Gudonis, President of Inmarsat Enterprise, explained the importance of connectivity in the project: “We are incredibly proud to be working with ApisProtect to help reduce the decline of bee populations globally and to support efficient crop pollination. Combining ApisProtect’s groundbreaking sensor and machine learning technology with our world-leading connectivity capabilities and IoT expertise will offer beekeepers a powerful tool for supporting the health of their apiaries. The stability and reliability of the connectivity are highly important to this solution as continual uploading of hive data is imperative to understand the real-time health of bee colonies. We hope that this partnership will aid beekeepers in maintaining strong, healthy colonies and will help increase the global bee population.”

Nortev is a veterinary medical device company based in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Nortev is the world leader in veterinary aerosol therapy. The company’s Flexineb Equine is an innovative and award-winning equine nebuliser that has been clinically proven at the highest academic level. Nortev is the only company in the world that has designed an equine nebuliser, Flexineb, specifically for equines without integrating human technologies that are inefficient for the equine market.

“Flexineb is the most clinically and academically researched equine nebuliser in the world,” said Gavan O’Sullivan, Managing Director, Nortev.

“We achieved this by conducting more than 12 months of detailed field research within the industry before starting any product design work. This level of dedicated research upfront was our way of integrating the industry into the design process — the industry set our specifications, not engineers.”

O’Sullivan explained that a horse’s lungs are the limiting factor in terms of how they can best perform. A recent study of equine asthma among thoroughbred racehorses in the U.S. shows that 80% of thoroughbred racehorses surveyed had mild or moderate asthma. Flexineb delivers drugs via aerosol to treat equine asthma. Aerosol therapy is clinically shown to be the best route of treatment for equine asthma, which is a lifelong condition. Flexineb offers an easy-to-use, efficient, and long-term cost-saving solution. The product has become a critical daily tool in the care and maintenance of healthy equine airways.

NORTEV Ltd. is a veterinary medical device company based in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland.

Before Flexineb, nebulisation was considered a chore that veterinarians, owners, trainers, riders and grooms all considered ill recommended. It was cumbersome, slow, uncomfortable for the horse, and expensive. Nortev, via its Flexineb product, has changed the landscape and outlook for nebulisation as a key tool in the horse industry.

“The Irish equine industry, albeit very small compared to others, is considered a world leader in the production of both world-class horses and products,” said O’Sullivan. “The fact that the Irish equine industry is so well renowned, its reputation, and any company associated with it, proceeds it, and it has helped us expand our business greatly.”

In a relatively short time, Nortev has become recognised as a global leader in equine nebuliser technologies and best practices. And with the extensive and essential equine and thoroughbred market in the U.S., it wasn’t long before Nortev had forged strong relationships with breeders and equine customers in the United States.

“We started in Ireland, where we developed relationships with key participants. Once we had our product offering and commitment proved in Ireland, these Irish participants helped open doors abroad for us, enabling us to validate Flexineb for the U.S.,” said O’Sullivan. “We allow our distributors to service the U.S. market in terms of sales and customer service, but we manage the relationships ourselves. This approach was initiated during our 12 months of research, and has evolved into partnerships that are now maintained seamlessly through constant interaction.”

In addition to having a North American Regional Manager; a support team in Lexington, Kentucky, and a series of regular visits to the U.S., O’Sullivan explained that the company has worked diligently to implement two key aspects of their set-up in the U.S.:

  • Nortev provides day-to-day support services for sales and customer support that is readily available to all clients.
  • Clients have direct access to Nortev for any additional support, provided via the recently-released app.

“In the U.S, Wire2Wire and Jiffy Steamer Equine Division are our two on-the-ground distribution partners,” added O’Sullivan. “We are also very appreciative to the support from institutions such as Purdue University, Hagyard Equine Clinic, and Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. Veterinary suppliers like Henry Schein and MWI, and retail outlet Big Dee’s have also been very supportive to Nortev and Flexineb.”

For a closer look at the way the Nortev Flexineb equine nebuliser is having a positive impact for trainers, breeders, and the thoroughbred industry, read this article from the Paulick Report on equine asthma care.

Agrispread International manufactures multipurpose fertiliser, lime, manure and bulk product trailed spreaders. Bringing technology into farming, it has launched the GPS Section Control Spreader. The new purpose-built spreader allows for even distribution and precise application rates of fertiliser, lime and bulk products. The company, which was founded in 2006, ensures that there is a uniform application of exact target amounts of product, which will result in reduced input costs, increased yields, as well as minimising crop damage and environmental impacts.

With more than 50 years of experience, the company operates from a purpose-built factory that boasts the latest in cutting, bending, welding and spraying technology. It has grown in strength in its Irish home market and now holds significant market share of the spreader category in the UK.

The GPS Section Control Spreader system enables potential savings of between 5-20% depending on the field size, shape, and obstacles. The system will eliminate spreading outside field boundaries, saving both fertiliser and overall input costs per acre. Variable rate application and auto shut-off spreading are also possible with the section control spreader.

Award-winners

Agrispread International won several awards at Ireland’s National Ploughing Championships 2018 – ‘The Best Established Company’ and ‘Best Innovation’ awards, including the prestigious ‘Machine of the Year 2018’ award.

A uniform spread pattern across a crop avoids both under- and over-application, helping to increase average yields; a record of the fertiliser/product application rate is logged, stored for full traceability and farm regulatory compliance. The new Section Control GPS system is available on a range of Agrispread models, from its 6-tonne to 25-tonne single or tandem axle spreaders.

Agrispread mobile apps

The Agrispread International App is designed to help users in the initial start-up, day-to-day use and maintenance of their products. From spare part manuals to rate calculations, the app covers a range of customer requirements for safe machinery operation.

Exporting to the UK and abroad

The UK is an important export market for Agrispread International and it holds a major percentage stake of the trailed lime and fertiliser spreader market; the company is served by an expanding network of dealers across the UK.

AgFunder, an online venture capital platform dedicated to technology in agriculture has reported that the UK agritech sector is worth more than £14 billion and employs more than 500,000 people, and that the Government invested a further £90 million at the end of 2018.

Agrispread’s products are exported around the world, with a strong presence in Australia, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and USA.  With two dedicated and experienced importers in the UK, Agrispread works closely with Dales Agri Sales Agency, fertiliser and lime spreaders as well as PK Sales, who offers rear discharge manure/muck & compost spreaders.

Agrispread International aims to continue to lead the way in fertiliser, lime, manure and bulk products spreading sectors by constantly enhancing the product offering, technical innovations, precision application, quality products while increasing home and export sales and adding new markets for its products. Agrispread has big ambitions. Its app is ever evolving and will soon be available in a newer version with a database of fertilisers, settings and features.

A Financial Times article published in 2018 states that investors pumped over $700 million into agritech in 2017, compared to $332 million and $233 million in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Meanwhile, according to AgFunderNews, the global agritech sector is experiencing exponential growth and is expected to reach £217 billion by 2021, signalling that investment will likely continue to enable the sector to fulfil demand.

Some countries are experiencing investment growth, with notable support from their government, as they aim to stay competitive, while also improving their market presence in the agritech sector. Furthermore, this increasing level of investment is linked to the need for countries to deal with the challenges facing the global agricultural sector.

Examples of investment in the agritech sector in select countries:

UK
Farming UK reports that global agritech firms such as BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta and Zoetis recently discussed opportunities of investment with the UK government, which will help drive investment in British farming. The UK agritech sector was worth an estimated £14 billion in 2017 and the country continues to experience support from the government through investments (Agfunder news) at national and local levels. This includes offering specialist guidance on skills, visas and migration as well as access to funding.

Ireland
Enterprise Ireland, the government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets, recently announced two initiatives that are part of its ongoing work to support agritech companies to innovate and win in international markets. The organisation also launched a Competitive Start Fund totalling up to €500,000 to support start-ups in the agritech sector. This was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine with the aim of providing entrepreneurs with critical early-stage funding.

The Irish Government’s Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) is a grouping of capital grant schemes designed to incentivise private investment in physical farming assets as part of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020. The scheme has a total allocated budget of €395 million under the 2014-2020 RDP. To date, €73.7 million has been drawn down to modernise farming by 15,978 farmers in Ireland. This level of governmental support and investments will help Ireland become a significant actor in addressing the challenges facing the global agricultural industry.

New Zealand
In September 2018, New Zealand became the first country partner in Farm 2050, a global initiative that includes a collective of diverse partners committed to advancing the future of food through supporting agritech entrepreneurs and start-ups. According to Agritech New Zealand, this partnership shows the country’s commitment to providing the country’s agritech companies with improved access to connected capital.

Conclusion
Increased investment in a sector suggests its growth potential. Agritech continues to see increased investment, particularly in Ireland, which will support its outlook and adoption. Significant government support for agritech is expected to increase the willingness to invest so that the future farm will be dominated by technological solutions that deal with the challenges facing the agricultural industry.

Technology is making major inroads into the agricultural and nutrition industry. The number of companies offering agritech solutions is on the up and up, driven by innovation as well as a growing need to deal with the challenges facing agriculture.

To keep up this momentum and remain competitive, agritech providers need to consider several critical success factors:

  • Provide means to enable continuous monitoring: Farmers need to be able to constantly monitor key parameters that directly impact yield and consequently profits. Technologies such as wireless sensors and variable rate technologies will help farmers to track key agricultural parameters including temperature, weather, nitrate content, soil quality, plant health, weed and unplanted growth, pest detection, etc.
  • Enable real-time data collection: Farmers need to be able to accurately collect and store data for continuous decision-making. Thus, technologies that ensure the accuracy of the data collected (aerial mapping, field harvesting, weather conditions, chemical detection and so on) are necessary to make agritech solutions more reliable.
  • Increasing automation of crop cultivation and livestock production systems: Automated tools and equipment for precision agriculture are made possible with the emergence of opportunities for robotics and drones in the agricultural sector. Further developing technologies that enable human assistance and human-machine interaction will help to tackle the challenge of a declining workforce and ageing farmers.
  • Demonstrate increased farmer return-on-investment (ROI): Agritech solutions lead to the development of agricultural products that aid in improving the yield productivity without having an impact on the environment. Optimisation and management of resources enabled by agritech solutions lead to an increase in ROI for farmers.
  • Efficient use of data: A key feature of agritech solutions is the generation of large datasets. Thus, the efficient use of data remains critical to the sector and highlights new partnership opportunities with data analytics companies.

The importance of Big Data Analytics (BDA) in the agritech sector

Application of big data and data science technologies will enable farm owners to further unlock the potential of the agriculture market. ]

Recent research by Frost and Sullivan titled “Global Big Data Analytics Market, Forecast to 2023″ estimates that the global BDA market, worth $8.5 billion in 2017, is expected to reach $40.6 billion by 2023 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29.7%. According to the report, the market is driven by organisations realising the operational advantages of BDA. These include improved Data Discovery Visualisation (DDV) empowering organisations to better target consumers, increased access to cloud-based models, enterprise-grade security and data governance solutions offered by market vendors, and continued vendor consolidation.

With the significant growth expected in the market, BDA companies are expected to apply their services to various industries, given that they can be used in any sector, including agriculture. Examples of big data companies or organisations that are now involved with the agriculture industry and thus contributing to the efficient use of data generated from agritech solutions are:

  • CeADAR (Centre for Applied Data Analytics), Ireland: a market-focused technology centre for innovation and the application of BDS and visualisation.
  • IBM, USA: as the world’s second-largest BDA company, IBM has been very active in the agriculture industry. According to the company, “there is a tremendous amount of big data in modern agriculture that is created but never used. Past attempts at utilising this data to increase yields and profitability have failed because they relied on manual input or remote internet accessibility.”
  • Farmers Business Network, USA: connects farmers to share knowledge and gain trusted insights about their farms, inputs and practices.
  • 640 labs, USA: acquired by Monsanto’s Climate Corporation, this precision farming platform collects, analyses and distributes data to optimise farming operations.
  • aWhere, USA: analyses data and provides insights that focus on the agricultural industry.
  • Strider, Brazil: an agritech company that develops technological innovations for the agricultural market.
  • Gamaya, Switzerland: improves the efficiency and sustainability of farming by offering agronomy solutions, enabled by hyperspectral imaging and AI.
  • Treemetrics, Ireland: offers a 3D measurement system to assess standing trees in forests.

The importance of big data is evidenced by the support of bodies such as:

Conclusion

While innovation is expected to remain vital to the growth of agritech, either through new product development or the continuous improvement of existing products, the success of the sector is highly dependent on the collection and correct interpretation of data — presenting companies with BDA capabilities the opportunity to thrive. This includes Ireland’s agritech providers, whose strong understanding of traditional farming practices enables them to develop effective solutions for monitoring crop, food, water, soil condition and more.

Food safety is a public health priority. That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which estimates that 600 million people (almost 1 in 10) fall sick each year after eating contaminated food, resulting in roughly 420,000 deaths.

Food safety affects the entire agriculture and nutrition supply chain, from the use of chemicals on farms to the challenge of food waste at the retail and consumer level. Globalisation has increased incidents of contamination and led to more foodborne illness, food safety scandals and health scares among consumers.

That said, some regions are more advanced than others, with regulatory bodies in place in more developed countries to ensure strict compliance. The Canadian Public Health Association notes that “large-scale farming and food processing as well as access to foods from around the world all contribute to increased opportunities for contamination. These trends make it harder to trace the source of a foodborne illness than outbreaks linked to local food sources.”

So, while the food industry has come a long way in terms of food safety thanks to technological advancements, detection tools and strict regulatory requirements, ongoing issues and recalls across the globe signal there is still a long way to go — and agritech will play a critical role in achieving a well-fed world.

Food safety regulatory bodies for select regions and countries are:

These regulatory bodies have a responsibility to ensure consumers have access to safe foods and agritech offers plenty of opportunities to improve different segments of the agriculture value chain, from production and processing, to packing and distribution, to storage and preparation.

Examples of technologies expected to impact food safety

Recent research by Frost and Sullivan on technologies enabling food safety expects the following technologies to enable food safety in the next few years:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Blockchain
  • Gene editing
  • Point-of-Care devices
  • Intelligent packaging
  • Advanced encapsulation
  • Biosensors
  • Printed electronics
  • Synthetic biology
  • Thermosonication

Traceability will be the main contributor to farm safety at the farm or production level, as it makes it easier to track the origin of food, while AI and Blockchain will provide opportunities at the farm level.

Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain technologies

AI is already on the verge of revolutionising the agriculture industry. Autonomous farming equipment incorporates sophisticated AI systems and sensor technologies to understand their surroundings and the needs of farm owners to fulfil designated agriculture goals. Additionally, AI enables remote monitoring of conditions to ensure safety and improved quality of the final agricultural produce.

An example of AI helping with food safety is IBM’s collaboration with Cornell University, a leader in dairy research, where the technology is leveraged to gain insights into how microorganisms interact within an environment to reduce the chance that the global milk supply is impacted by safety breaches.

Blockchain, meanwhile is a digital immutable ledger that can keep a record of transactions in a database synchronized and shared among members of a peer-to-peer network. Its implementation in food production and supply chains can enable increased levels of transparency and control in maintaining food safety. It can also help trace the origins of raw materials and ingredients used in the production of a particular food at any point in the supply chain, from the farm to the end consumer.

Additionally, Blockchain can be adopted by farmers to monitor crop health via the adoption of precision farming. Multiple data points such as the use of inputs are measured using an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, which are then fed into the blockchain to monitor crop health.

An example of this is when Cargill piloted a secure blockchain solution in 2017 that allowed consumers to track the turkey they purchased for Thanksgiving. Last year, HSBC and ING Bank successfully executed a live trade finance transaction for Cargill using R3’s Corda scalable blockchain platform.

Conclusion

While AI is already making a difference in the agriculture industry, blockchain technology is still in its infancy, thus offering big opportunities for the industry. According to Frost and Sullivan’s research, any deployment of blockchain in food safety is yet to prove its value in terms of a successful scalable deployment, but this is expected to change as innovation continues to prove

its importance in global food safety and traceability. Increased adoption of both AI and Blockchain will strengthen food safety infrastructure, leading to less contamination and fewer mass recalls.

MagGrow is a young company with big ambitions. Their goal is to help feed the world.

What is perhaps surprising, therefore, is that MagGrow doesn’t actually grow anything. “We’re a technology company – science and technology,” says MagGrow CEO, Gary Wickham.

Six years ago, Gary and his co-founder David Moore set up MagGrow in NovaUCD, the Irish incubation centre in University College Dublin, to solve the problem that more than 70% of pesticide spray sprayed around the world doesn’t reach its target.

Gary explains: “Conventional spray technology uses large nozzles and water in the spray solution to try and control the droplets by making them larger. The result is that they’re like raindrops – they run off, splatter and bounce off the crops, so they actually make the problem worse because then you have this huge run-off problem.

“That spray – be it fungicide, herbicide or insecticide – which is missing the target, ends up in neighbouring crops, neighbouring fields and rivers and streams, contaminating the environment with unnecessary waste.”

The MagGrow system is a patented, proprietary technology for droplet formation that yields superior spray drift-reduction and spray coverage performance.

“This allows growers to use smaller nozzles without the associated drift problems and gives you that better efficacy in coverage and disease control,” Gary says. “Basically, farmers are able to use 50% less chemical and water to do the same job. We’re reducing the 70% waste to 20%, and in some cases less than 10%.

“Additional benefits include that farmers can use our system in higher wind speeds, it has no moving parts with little or no maintenance and can be retrofitted to tractor booms – you don’t need a new kit.”

MagGrow’s markets include North America, Europe and South Africa, and will soon include South America and Asia as a result of the Trimble Partnership. The company works with growers including Driscoll’s farms and Reiter Berries, as well as research centres such as Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Pacific Ag research in California to develop and test their technology. Three years and €10 million in R&D later, MagGrow now has products for both indoor and outdoor growing.

MagGrow is a young company with big ambitions. Their goal is to help feed the world.

How MagGrow stays at the forefront of agritech innovation

The boom kit is the core product for retrofitting to existing boom sprayers, and MagGrow has retrofitted every major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) machine type. The boom kit can also be installed on new sprayers. A backpack product is available for horticultural greenhouse applications, which saves 50% of chemical and water for growers, and just like the boom kit product, has a typical return on investment of less than one year.

The cost of a MagGrow system varies according the size of boom but for a typical 32-metre system, it is in the region of €35,000.

MagGrow has opened facilities in three leading research institutions to ensure it remains at the forefront of agritech research and development in order to develop new Intellectual Property (IP) and products, and also to support customers.

Gary comments: “In Harper Adams University in the UK, we have opened a facility around Industrial Engineering and Applied Research. We also established a Crop Science Centre At Farm491 in the Royal Agricultural University, where we do field and semi-field (indoor) testing; and we’re also working with Trinity College Dublin on pure research projects as part of a co-funded Science Foundation Ireland AMBER (Advanced Materials Bioengineering Research) project.”

MagGrow has been supported by Enterprise Ireland under its High Potential Start-Ups programme, and it was through connections made by the Irish trade and innovation agency that the company was introduced to Trimble – a $3 billion revenue company with several divisions including agriculture. Solutions from its agriculture division, Trimble Agriculture, allow farmers to operate more efficiently and productively, saving on input costs, and helping them to apply those inputs in a safe, responsible way.

Gary says: “It’s an ideal partnership, as both companies are brand agnostic, focus on precision agriculture, and want to help farmers grow sustainabily by using less inputs to grow more and, in the process, meet their environmental targets.

“We signed a worldwide agreement with them in January to distribute our product globally under what’s called a Trimble Select Program. This gives us access to Trimble’s fantastic worldwide network, as well as being associated with a fantastic brand.

“We have sold over 100 units to date. This year, we forecast to sell about four times that – and possibly higher. We mainly sell through dealer distribution channels but also sell direct to certain large growers as well.”

The Trimble deal is the culmination of six years of hard work, which has seen the company grow from two to 30 employees, including recently being awarded ISO 9001:2015 registration from the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).

For MagGrow, however, this is just the beginning. Gary says: “Over the next 40 to 50 years, the world needs to grow the same amount of food as in the previous 10,000 years combined, in order to feed a global population forecast to hit more than 10 billion people.

“We have a huge food and water challenge globally. Already in places like California, Asia and Africa we’re using more than 80% of all water for agriculture alone, so we really do need to grow more but also grow sustainably. Critically, MagGrow allows farmers to do both.”

Gary ultimately wants to see MagGrow as a standard piece of kit in new or retrofitted sprayers, helping growers improve their profitability and feed the world in a sustainable way, as well as meeting their environmental targets.

 

Europe’s agricultural workforce is expected to fall by 28% between 2017 and 2030, according to the latest agricultural outlook by the European Commission, largely as a result of structural changes within the EU agri-food industry and better employment opportunities in other sectors.

This decline is not confined to Europe: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service reports that the country’s agricultural workforce has been dropping for years. Specifically, the number of self-employed and family farmworkers in the U.S. plunged from 7.6 million in 1950 to 2.06 million in 2000—a 73% reduction.

Elsewhere, data from the World Bank’s International Labour Organization shows that agriculture’s proportion of total employment continues to decline in most countries across the globe. At the same time, farmers are ageing: according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the average age of farmers in the U.S. and other developed countries is 60.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite the drop in labour in the U.S. of late, total farm output actually increased between 1948 and 2015, as per the USDA’s farming and farm income report, due to technological developments in agriculture.

This demonstrates the value in providing agritech solutions that can not only assist and replace an ageing agricultural workforce but also improve farm efficiency and output.

Autonomous farming to the rescue

Technological developments are already making headway in the global agriculture sector, but there is still a long way to go to deal with the challenges it faces—particularly when it comes to improving efficiency and profitability in a sustainable manner. That said, advanced technologies such as autonomous farming and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help overcome many of these.

Examples of companies with autonomous farming solutions are:

  • Harvest Automation, USA: A material handling company that provides robots to resolve manual labour problems in outdoor environments.
  • Naio Technologies, France: Develops and manufactures robots for agriculture and viticulture as well as tools for weeding, hoeing and harvesting.
  • Dairymaster, Ireland: A market leader in dairy equipment manufacturing with products such as automatic feeders and automatic manure scrappers.
  • Precision Hawk, USA: Provides drones, UAV remote sensing applications and data processing services.
  • Deepfield Robotics, Germany: Develops autonomous machinery to improve conventional and organic weed management.
  • Universal Robots, Denmark: Manufactures collaborative robots that automate and streamline repetitive and monotonous processes.

Conclusion

Robotics is already transforming agriculture in areas that do not require much human intervention and optimises farm land using data, AI, and other smart technologies. With the rise of drones, UAVs and robots, the future farm is expected to be highly reliant on autonomous farming, which will reduce reliance on human labour, thus alleviating the issue of declining labour.

Not only will these automated systems improve the quality of produce, lower production costs and reduce manual efforts involved in labour, but they will also enhance the safety of field operations by enabling machines to operate in areas that are otherwise too dangerous for manned vehicles.

Overall, solutions that deal directly with the challenge of labour shortages will be welcomed by the agriculture industry.

The global agritech market is expected to reach €13.1 billion by 2030, up from €2.8 billion in 2016 at a compound annual growth rate of 11.9%, according to the Agricultural Technology Market Review from Satellite Applications Catapult. A need for the industry to produce more food in an efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly manner is driving this growth, as the world’s rising population continues to put pressure on land and water resources.

That’s one reason why investment in agritech has increased substantially in recent years: As stated in AgFunder’s agrifood tech investing report, investment reached $10.1 billion in 2017, up 29% on the previous year. At the same time, notable acquisitions by large agricultural companies including John Deere, Monsanto, DowDupont and Syngenta are all expected to contribute to market growth. These purchases show that these reputable companies have identified and responded to the opportunities within the sector at the centre of the future of farming.

Innovation continues to increase across the industry

Innovative Irish start-ups have been transforming the agritech sector and achieving global success. For instance, Herdwatch was recently awarded the Silver Online Innovation Award at LAMMA 2019, the UK’s leading agriculture and machinery show, for the new Farm Medicine Scanner feature on its farm management app. Meanwhile, MagGrow raised €3 million last November to fund the development and global roll-out of a breakthrough device that reduces unwanted and potentially dangerous drift from crop spraying.

Collaborative agritech solutions are expected to play a key role in increasing adoption

Based on case studies provided by various agritech providers on their websites, farmers are increasingly choosing agritech solutions. But having so many options to choose from can often complicate the buying process and result in costly purchases. That’s why farmers need to be clear on what exactly they need. For example, whether they need a farm app to manage their farming operations or buy precision machinery to use inputs efficiently.

That said, there are very few agritech solutions that cover a multitude of pain points, which highlights a need for more all-in-one solutions. Thus, agritech providers who can offer comprehensive solutions that meet multiple needs for minimal investment will stand out in the market. This also presents opportunities for collaborations and partnerships in the sector that will increase the availability and efficiency of solutions offered to farmers.

Examples of comprehensive Irish agritech solutions in the market today are:

Keenan InTouch: InTouch is a cloud-based technology that links feeding machines across the world with a live monitoring centre to provide farmers with real-time analysis and optimisation of animal diet, health and performance. Specific solutions are: Consistency in both feeding and mixing, improvement in milk yield and milk solids, faster finishing, monitor and control feed costs, herd health improvements, and ration formulation.

Moocall: Moocall provides beef and dairy farmers with wearable sensors that solve the main issues relating to calving, heat detection and herd management to help ensure efficient and profitable farming.

Conclusion

Agritech is now widely recognised as the future of farming, given that it is expected to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing the industry. But while there has been a marked increase in innovation across the industry, most solutions available on the market target different areas, meaning that farmers must invest in a range of different solutions from different providers. Although some collaborative solutions already exist — such as precision technologies mounted on tractors and the Keenan InTouch technology that can be used with any mixer wagon — there is still a need for more.

In order to limit the challenge of farmers facing too many choices, agritech providers that think about adding value by providing all-in-one solutions will stand out in this market. These comprehensive and collaborative solutions will provide more value to farmers, increase adoption rates and thus support market growth.

Agricultural manufacturer Abbey Machinery is targeting growth in South Africa after its diet feeder machines proved their mettle with farmers in the country’s demanding highveld.

The Tipperary agricultural machinery manufacturer sold a VF2000 feeder machine to a large farmer in the Mpumalanga province, South Africa, last November and has since exhibited the same product to other farmers, including at a major agricultural show.

The machine’s ability to mix tough indigenous hay with other feed at low horsepower has been well very received from South African farmers and Abbey Machinery is now fast-tracking plans to develop South Africa as a new export market.

The opportunity emerged when South African agricultural machinery dealer Nico von Wielligh contacted Abbey on behalf of a South African. The dealer and farmer travelled to Abbey Machinery’s plant in Toomervara in Ireland’s County Tipperary to see the range of diet feeder machines, resulting in purchasing of the VF2000 feed mixer.

Michael O’Grady, Sales, Marketing & Business Development Manager at Abbey Machinery, explains: “The customer started using the VF2000 around November 2018, and the feedback has been really, really positive – they’re really, really happy. The farmer has Drakensberger cattle – an indigenous breed of cattle in South Africa – which are fed on Eragrostis hay; it’s quite a difficult material. It’s a very wiry type of grass, and even more so when you turn it into hay, and our [Abbey Machinery’s] diet feeder is handling the hay superbly.  The farmer is mixing the hay with other feed and finds that cattle performance and health, as well as the use of the hay is better. He is very happy and it’s been a great start for Abbey Machinery in South Africa.”

A demonstration of the Abbey Machinery feed mixer, that was purchased by the South African farmer, during the conference in Ermelo.

A demonstration of the Abbey Machinery feed mixer, that was purchased by the South African farmer, during the conference in Ermelo.

Michael travelled to South Africa in February 2019 to officially launch the diet feeder at the Drakensberger Cattle Breeders Society meeting, which was held on the customer’s farm.

He says: “I went down for the week and met customers in the market we’re targeting, which is the commercial farms and the mega farms. We did a demonstration and they liked the quality of the machine. They liked how well it was built and they liked even more how it was able to handle the feed.”

“There’s lots of competition – we’re not the first foreign agricultural machinery manufacturer in the market – but from the feedback we’ve gotten there isn’t much that can challenge how our machine handles the feed at such low horsepower and with such ease. That has great benefits because the farmer can get more out of his hay and he can get more out of his animals with the VF2000 feed mixer especially when the grass doesn’t have enough nutrition in it.”

Rolling out Abbey Machinery across South Africa

Nico von Wielligh is now partnering with Abbey to roll out the brand across South Africa.

He said: “It’s been a very good start, so the challenge now is to leverage the positive start. We have launched the machine and are now taking the brand out to Mpumalanga and then working it into the other provinces. Farmers in South Africa are very seasonal in the way they spend their money. Our crop comes off normally at the end of June-July, so we are expecting some sales of machines later this year. They’re looking to invest in good quality machinery and they’re willing to pay for quality.”

The Abbey Machinery feed mixer on display during the farmers conference in Ermelo.

The Abbey Machinery feed mixer on display during the farmers conference in Ermelo,

Dr. Ureshnie Govender, senior market advisor covering life sciences and agritech for Enterprise Ireland in South Africa, believes that Abbey Machinery’s approach of partnering with a local dealer and travelling to meet potential customers in country will pay dividends.

Dr. Govender said: “The agri sector is key to the economy of South Africa and there is a need for high-end agri-equipment like Abbey Machinery’s products to provide efficiency and effective results for farmers. Michael’s engagement with Mpumalanga farmers and potential buyers provided insight into issues that farmers have with current equipment, and also indicated the value that Abbey Machinery would bring to South African farmers. Along with Abbey’s South African partner [Nico], I will support Michael and the Abbey Machinery team to engage further with potential buyers and partners to create awareness of the range of products and support the uptake in country.”

Irish agritech company KEENAN has partnered with Ontario Harvestore Systems, building on the North American presence it has developed since being acquired by global animal nutrition company Alltech in 2016.

KEENAN, which was established in Ireland in 1978, is a leader in the manufacturing of quality mixer wagons and ethical farming solutions.

Stuart McGregor, general manager of KEENAN Canada, said, “We decided to pursue a partnership between KEENAN and Ontario Harvestore Systems due to our shared values of helping producers achieve maximum efficiency.”

The partnership will help to ensure that producers working with KEENAN get the highest level of access to support, service, and the dedicated expertise of KEENAN.

InTouch technology

KEENAN mixer wagons produce a unique homogeneous mix, which optimizes rumen health and ensures consistent performance. The mixer wagons are also fitted with InTouch, which offers real-time monitoring for the optimization of herd health.

InTouch allows farmers to formulate rations that are chemically and physically balanced for their animals. It also features a live review and support service operated by animal nutritionists to ensure animals get their optimum feed each day.

Robert Walker, CEO of KEENAN, said, “The simplicity of InTouch has been key to its success. The weigh box on the side of the mixer wagon is very intuitive and simple to use. It tells the farmer step by step what feed mix to put in the machine and then records the actual totals. If something goes wrong or there is a deterioration in animal performance, the farmer is alerted, and our nutritionist changes the diet.”

InTouch also has positive consequential benefits for farmers under pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of their herd.

Ontario Harvestore

Ontario Harvestore, who has been operating in Ontario for more than 53 years, provides an efficient ‘first-in, first-out’ feed storage and delivery system, which improves feed quality and feeding.

Chris Kelly, communications and marketing director for Ontario Harvestore, said, “What made us decide to partner with KEENAN was the reliability, durability and ease of maintenance of the machines.”

New agritech slurry management system along with a wide range of equipment that increases agricultural efficiency.

As experts in farm management equipment for feeding, slurry management and grass care, Abbey Machinery is helping customers improve their efficiency with a range of new applications that form a ‘total cow’ management system. These include flow control on tankers for precise slurry spreading, precision diet feeders that track input use, costs and waste and grassland management. The Irish agritech company based in Tipperary, has more than seven decades of experience in manufacturing agricultural equipment and exports 60 per cent of its products – with the UK as the biggest overseas market.

“Ireland is an island, so there is only so far we can expand here, it’s been our strategy to further expand exports to other countries,” says Michael O’Grady, Head of Sales, Marketing and Business Development at Abbey Machinery.

“Abbey Machinery has a long history of trade with the UK. We have similar landscapes, systems of farming, management approaches – and of course there is the shared language and proximity. The UK was the first foreign country we sold to – more than 30 years ago – and it continues to be our biggest overseas territory.”

Abbey Machinery is one of Ireland’s oldest and most respected equipment manufacturers, having been founded in 1947, and is now run by the third generation (Clodagh Cavanagh) of the founding Cavanagh family. The company manufactures 88 product lines (across seven product groups) in a variety of sizes to suit different markets, and is agile in its approach to varying market needs. As well as exporting to the UK, it sells to international territories including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

“One of the benefits of selling to different countries is that we can learn something new and apply that knowledge to the next iterations of products,” says O’Grady. “In the UK, there has been a particular requirement recently for larger machines for the more professional farmer/contractor and there are now more queries regarding the live sensing of slurry equipment to know and apply exacting quantities of slurry based on field and crop requirements.

“There is also a growing trend towards placing the slurry on or below the ground and a move away from splash plate spreading and this has led us to create machinery that releases the slurry on or below the soil surface. This helps retain the nitrates and ammonia, which not only is better for the smell and environmental reasons, but also makes the slurry fertilizer more economically efficient.”

The company also incorporates agritech technologies into its diet feeding equipment such as a TMR Tracker, that enables accurate loading and mixing of feeds, assessment of waste levels, dry matter intakes, margins over feed costs, feed costs per litre, and feed stock management.

They recently won two awards, with Clodagh Cavanagh, Managing Director of Abbey Machinery, winning the University of Limerick Alumni Award for her ‘Contribution to business’ and was selected as CEO of the year at IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards, which is hosted by Image Magazine.

Although Abbey Machinery is a well-established Irish agriculture manufacturer and retailer, the company is pleased to gain assistance from Enterprise Ireland – the Irish Government’s trade and innovation agency – when it looks to explore new international markets and exploit existing markets.

“They are excellent and help us to research new territories and explore market needs and opportunities. They help by guiding us and giving us proper focus and they are always enthusiastic in their support,” says O’Grady.

Shauna Higgins, market advisor for Enterprise Ireland’s agritech sector, says: “Irish companies have a great reputation internationally for using technology and innovation to produce high quality equipment and products. Ireland produces enough food for 35 million people, yet we have a population of 5 million. A company such as Abbey Machinery is a great example of how a forward-thinking attitude can create great products that improve efficiency in agriculture which not only is good for farmers but will ultimately benefit consumers and our environment.”