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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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, 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.”
Herdwatch is on a mission to remove paperwork from the farm. CEO and co-founder Fabien Peyaud envisages a day when all farmers need to manage their paperwork is a smartphone and his company’s award-winning farm management app platform.
One of the true pioneers of the agritech sector in Ireland, Herdwatch developed their first mobile app to help farmers comply with traceability regulations five years ago. Now, the app is used on more than 10,000 beef, dairy, sheep and tillage farms across the UK and Ireland.
Fabien says: “We have 8,000 paid subscribers and another 2,000 on the free version. Herdwatch is the number one farm software provider in Ireland and the UK. There’s only one company in the world that has more farms on their platform and they’ve been around for 30 years, whereas Herdwatch started five years ago.
Herdwatch takes paperwork out of the equation for farmers
One side of the Herdwatch app manages all the compliance and regulatory information a farmer needs for his herd – everything from how old each animal is, calf registration and movements in and out of the herd; to recording medicine purchases, treatments and vaccinations for individual animals.
Fabien explains: “Helping farmers save time and money is our bread and butter. The app manages all the compliance and regulatory information a farmer needs for their herd – it takes paperwork out of the equation, saving farmers time and hassle on that side.
“Farmers have to be compliant with various schemes and Herdwatch helps them record information as it happens in the field and be confident that they are compliant at all times.
“This is also because our app is easy to use, that’s one of the things that we’re known for. It’s really amazing to see 50, 60 or 70-year-old farmers getting into this app – the level of engagement they have is very, very motivating for us.”
Innovation driving agritech success
Innovation has been at the heart of Herdwatch’s success and at its base in Roscrea in Ireland’s County Tipperary, the company spends around half of what it earns on R&D to ensure that its product is always moving forward. The latest version of the app, Version 5.5, makes increasing use of the smartphone technology.
A new Farm Medicine Scanner allows beef, dairy and sheep farmers to scan animal medicines and record their use with a smartphone. The Herdwatch app uses the phone’s camera to read the barcode or QR code on a medicine container and run the information directly into the app.
The feature – which increases medicine traceability and compliance – won a prestigious Innovation Award at the LAMMA 2019 agriculture and machinery show in the UK.
Another recent innovation is a feature that allows farmers to order replacement tags for their animals directly from the app.
Fabien explains: “Animals have to be tagged by law but sometimes animals lose their tags and they have to be replaced and again it’s more paperwork. Now with Herdwatch, a farmer who notices a missing tag in the field can record that an animal is missing the tag and also order a new one immediately from the app.”
Bringing farmers actionable information
Fabien believes that new features and uses are key to the continued growth and success of Herdwatch. He says: “Compliance is why people get Herdwatch but the reason they keep the app is what we do on the management side – particularly over the last couple of years.
“We’re also really focusing on bringing farmers actionable information in their hands that allows them to make the right management decision. Things like milk records are coming into the app, so farmers can see the output of their animal and make decisions about which animals to keep and which not to.
“This is the direction we’re going into now – compliance is our core bread and butter and we’re going to continue to excel at that and improve it any way we can, but we’re also going to drive the management side of it.”
The company’s direction includes looking at entering other markets over the next two years. Germany, the Netherlands, the US, Australia and New Zealand are on the shortlist, as is Fabien’s native France.
“One of our goals is to try and bring in all the other technology that a farm has and allow the farmer to see and interact with those on Herdwatch. We believe that at some point there will be a need for convergence because farmers will demand it.
“Herdwatch wants to be that platform because we believe that it will allow us to help combat some of the big issues facing farming – such as the fight against antimicrobial resistance or reducing carbon footprints.”
From saving trees through reduced paperwork to saving the planet through reduced carbon emissions, Herdwatch’s pioneering spirit is as strong as ever.
Irish agritech is, like the proverbial farmer, outstanding in its field. Fittingly, this expertise has its roots in the land.
At the Ceide Fields, a globally unique archaeological site and visitor centre in Ireland’s north County Mayo, visitors can see evidence of field systems and animal enclosures that date back more than 5,000 years: 2,000 years before construction of the pyramids began.
This farming heritage, spanning 200 generations, provided the seedbed for the world class agri-food sector Ireland boasts today.
“Our very successful agri-food industry hasn’t come from nowhere but has evolved over hundreds of years,” says Tom Kelly, divisional manager for innovation and competitiveness at Enterprise Ireland.
“It is our pastoral tradition that ultimately results in our successful food and dairy export sector.”
From the rich pasturelands of the “Golden Vale”, which spans Tipperary, Cork and Limerick, to the expansive vegetable farms of north County Dublin and the fruit growers of County Wexford, in Ireland’s “Sunny South East”, Ireland’s farmers are adept at making best use of their land. Indeed, it’s the limestone under Kildare, and the calcium-rich grass that grows over it, that produces Ireland’s world-class thoroughbred horses.
How Ireland feeds 35 million people
All such strengths have helped to position Ireland as one of the world’s great locations for food production. “One of the great contributions Ireland makes is as a source of food of exceptional range and quality. It’s how we – a country of just five million people – are able to feed 35 million people,” says Kelly.
It’s also why Ireland enjoys exceptional success as one of the world’s leading producers of infant baby formula, producing 10% of worldwide supply.
But Ireland’s long and rich farming tradition has also yielded a world-class agri-mech sector.
The country has produced some of the world’s leading agricultural machinery companies. Dairy technology company Dairymaster powers dairy parlours around the world. Feed systems technology company Keenan Systems, a major international exporter, is now part of global giant Alltech, the animal nutrition group which was itself founded by an Irish entrepreneur, the late Dr. Pearse Lyons.
Ireland’s crop of agritech innovators also includes global exporters such Abbey Machinery, which combines a heritage dating to the 19th century with cutting edge innovation derived from its in-house R&D department.
High-tech equipment makers such as HiSpec Engineering, Prodig, AgriSpread, Malone Farm Machinery and Tanco Autowrap are succeeding around the world. Part of their export success stems from building equipment that can handle Ireland’s varied weather and conditions – making it robust enough for almost anywhere on the planet.
Now there is a new chapter to Ireland’s agricultural success story
“We produce the food. We produce the equipment that produces the food. Now we are seeing the convergence of that heritage and expertise with new sensor-based and wireless technologies, giving rise to another level of Irish agritech,” says Kelly.
“What we are seeing now is the emergence of a new breed of start-up companies, as well as the embracing of new technologies by traditional machinery companies here.”
The arc of Ireland’s agricultural narrative, from agri-food to agri-mech and now, to agritech, “is part of a story that gives great confidence for the future,” he says. “We’re building from a very strong base.”
Agritech: from FitBit for cows to CRM for cattle
Products such as Intouch Pace, from Keenan Systems, and companies such as Terra NutriTECH, offer smart monitoring of nutrition and minerals in feed and water systems. True North Technologies creates apps that monitor everything from grass growth to animal behaviour.
“The result is that, while Ireland already has a very exciting cohort of existing companies, we now have very exciting new ones emerging as well,” says Kelly.
He subscribes to the theory that much of this innovation stems from the fact that farmers, by their nature, are entrepreneurial, typically applying a “can do” attitude to challenges. As we know from the Ceide Fields, Ireland has long been a nation of farmers.
“Farmers, by their nature, look to find practical solutions,” he says. Today that means making the very best use of their land through the innovative use of precision agriculture, devising and utilising technologies that maximise their return from the ground while doing the very least damage to it.
“Right now, one of the biggest challenges facing the planet is how to produce more food for an increasing population. We have to generate more food but in a way that is mindful of the sustainability of solutions,” he says.
In developing such solutions, Ireland’s agritech sector benefits from the deep technology talent pool we have here. This arises both from the country’s status as a global hub for ICT – all of the world’s top IT companies have a presence here – and from the strong R&D collaboration that exists between agriculture and the third- and fourth-level education sector.
This makes Enterprise Ireland’s network of offices around the world a perfect first port of call for international agricultural buyers looking for innovative solutions.
“If Irish agritech companies don’t have the solution you need, chances are they are either already working on it, or can work on developing it with you – so get in touch,” he says.
“At a time when the world faces many challenges, particularly in relation to environmental impact, we have Irish companies providing solutions that take account of sustainability and make use of all the new technologies that are emerging,” he says.
“What we are seeing here is the convergence of all that traditional capability in farming, all that long-standing capability in machinery and electronics, and all the newer capability in relation to ICT that is emerging. When you look at the companies that have already emerged from here, whether it’s Dairymaster, Alltech or McHale, it’s not a stretch to say Ireland is world class in this sector. We have the evidence to prove it.”
Five thousand years’ worth, in fact.
Fast-growing Irish agritech company Herdwatch has been awarded the Silver Online Innovation Award at the UK’s leading agriculture and machinery show.
Herdwatch, based in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, was honoured by LAMMA 2019 for the new Farm Medicine Scanner feature on its farm management app. Ireland is playing a major part in the global agritech sector.
The Farm Medicine Scanner allows beef, dairy and sheep farmers to scan animal medicines and record their use with a smartphone. The Herdwatch app uses the phone’s camera to read the barcode or QR code on a medicine container and run the information directly into the app.
The scanner is able to identify the medicine, its corresponding Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) number, and also its batch number and expiry date.
The feature saves time, increases medicine traceability and compliance on farms, and provides assurance to farmers that their records are 100% accurate.
In just five years, Herdwatch has grown to become the second largest farm management app and platform in the world by making it easy for dairy, suckler, beef and arable farmers to comply with animal welfare and traceability regulations at all times.
The Herdwatch app is used on more than 10,000 farms across the UK and Ireland. It saves farmers an estimated two to three hours of paperwork every week by recording farm and animal events digitally as they happen.
The company has won multiple awards in Ireland and the UK since launching its app in 2014, and CEO Fabien Peyaud said that this latest success was testament to the hard work of all of Herdwatch’s 14 employees, half of whom work in research and development.
Mr Peyaud said: “The amount of work which goes into something which looks so simple, like the Farm Medicine Scanner, is phenomenal so an award like this is a huge boost for us.
“It’s recognition for the team and all their hard work. It’s also confirmation that we’ve done something that makes a difference for farmers.
“The LAMMA Awards have a reputation for recognising ground-breaking innovation and advances in agricultural machinery, technology and services. This is our second award there – we won a merit certificate in 2016 – and it motivates us to continue to innovate for farmers in Ireland and the UK.”
Find more information on innovative agritech companies here.
With a farming heritage that extends back over 200 years, Ireland is also at the forefront of agricultural innovation today.
Not only does Ireland offer one of the world’s most productive agricultural systems, its conditions are an ideal test bed for farming machinery that is used in every part of the world.
The agritech industry worldwide is quickly and constantly evolving. In Ireland, research and development is government funded and backed by world-class agricultural science and technology university programmes.
Irish farming produce feeds the world
Thanks to this farming pedigree, Ireland produces enough food for seven times its population, including 10% of the world’s infant milk formula. The country’s beef and milk output are famous worldwide, while 15 tonnes of dry matter are produced per hectare of grass. 81% of Ireland’s agricultural land is used for silage, hay, and pasture.
Furthermore, Irish innovations like zero-grazing technology have been adopted around the world, while the country’s manufacturers are constantly breaking ground for the next generation of farming.
Enterprise Ireland is ready to help you benefit from all of this expertise and innovation.
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Amid the rush for increased use of digital technology in farming, it can be easy to forget that a different form of technology is still very much the backbone of every farm operation. Farmers need strong, reliable, innovative machinery and engineering solutions to improve their processes, save labour costs and ensure profitability in farming.
Irish companies have been exporting farm machinery around the world for generations. Enterprise Ireland nurtures and champions Irish companies that are export focused and ready to scale-up their manufacturing capabilities and enter new markets. Areas where Irish companies are leading the way in agricultural manufacturing solutions include mixing and feeding, grass management, dairy, water management and general farm machinery.
Excellence in farm machinery
Abbey Machinery manufacturers a wide range of slurry and manure handling equipment, grassland management equipment and animal feeding equipment.
Michael O’Grady is Abbey’s Sales, Marketing and Business Development Manager. “We have machinery to cover both ends of the cow,” he says. “Our diet feeders are unique in how precise they are, chopping and mixing the feed, and doing it efficiently so that the machine runs on one of the lowest horsepower motors on the market.
“Then after the feed passes through the animal, we have machines to handle the waste and spread it on to the land in an environmentally friendly way. Our applicators significantly reduce carbon emissions and significantly reduce fertiliser requirements by the farmer because it gets the slurry down below the canopy of the crop.”
Agricultural conditions vary around the world, so Abbey makes sure to make the best match between their machines and their export markets.
Mr O’Grady explains: “In every market, we compete with big international manufacturers, local manufacturers, and other importers like ourselves. We work closely with our dealers to ensure we put the right product group in their market, we don’t ever put stock in there unless we know they’re going to sell it. We give them the support to sell the machines – whether that’s training or support at shows – and that is a big help which our dealers appreciate.”
ProDig brought its expertise in manufacturing machine attachments for the construction sector into agriculture 10 years ago, and quickly developed a reputation for the quality and versatility of its machinery.
Donny Nolan, co-founder and director of ProDig, explains: “We have some unique attachments, multi-purpose machinery, that will do the job of three attachments, so the farmer only has to buy one.”
ProDig’s product range includes Shear Grabs, Shear Buckets, Bale Handling Attachments, Folding Grass forks, Hi Tip Buckets, and Bag fillers – all of which are designed and manufactured at the company’s purpose-built factory in County Carlow in Ireland.
Donny believes that the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy means that companies have an acute understanding of what farmers need to support their work.
He says: “Even in the most basic products, Irish manufacturers are excelling – they’re innovating in machinery as much as any other area to make farming more profitable. Much of the rise in tech solutions from Irish companies has come out of the background in heavy machinery and engineering – it’s a symbiotic relationship. If you make the basics better, you make the overall better.”
Market-leading expertise can be found in many companies supported by Enterprise Ireland. Tanco Autowrap’s patented packaging systems for bale wrapping include machines, which allow for simultaneous bale unloading and next bale re-loading, as well as automatic loading.
Keenan Systems made its name more than 30 years ago manufacturing very robust animal feed mixer wagons. However, their ability to demonstrate the benefits of their machines has been a real game changer.
Keenan CEO, Robbie Walker explains: “Ten years ago we realised that farmers were no longer just content with solid engineering, they wanted to buy something that gave a good output, so we started showing farmers that if they used our feeding machines they would see better results. For example, dairy farmers were going to be producing more milk from less resource, and that they were going to have a better carbon footprint and lower emissions.
“We got some patents for that and that gave us quite a global renown for this approach. Then more recently, through using digital technology, we started selling a consulting service along with the machine to ensure that farmers can get the most benefit from it.
“My current view is that we don’t sell products anymore, we provide a service and that service allows us to then sell products. That’s been the big change.”
This convergence of machinery and technology provides the best outcome for farmers in terms of efficiency and profitability, and it is here that many Irish companies are demonstrating a market-leading advantage.
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.”