Progress in agriculture has always been driven by innovation. The old adage about necessity being the mother of invention is as evident in farming now as it ever was.
Ireland has a vibrant agritech ecosystem where individual companies, universities, institutes of technology and other stakeholders challenge and disrupt conventional farming methods by working together to devise new solutions and applications for better, more efficient farming.
Keenan Systems has pioneered innovation in feed efficiency technology for more than 35 years. More recently, the company has combined machinery with data through its InTouch support service, which provides real-time information to farmers on animal nutrition and health.
Michael Carbery, Engineering and Innovation Manager, believes that Keenan benefits from a positive environment in Irish agriculture. He says: “There is a strong culture of innovation in Ireland and it’s becoming stronger. There is a willingness among academia and business to get together and try to create a better product or solution for farmers.
“Many Irish companies export most of their products. We’re not trying to develop purely for the Irish market, so we have to take a global view of agriculture. I think that gives Irish companies like Keenan a strong advantage in the overall level of innovation.”
Relationship between industry and research at the heart of Irish agritech innovation
Relationships between industry and academia are often at the heart of innovation. By placing R&D at the heart of its operation, Dairymaster has won multiple awards and built a global reputation for innovative dairy equipment manufacturing across milking, feeding, manure scrapers, milk cooling tanks, and health and fertility monitoring systems.
Earlier this year, Dairymaster formed a €2 million research and development partnership with Institute of Technology Tralee and the Science Foundation Ireland research centre Lero on using artificial intelligence and autonomous systems to improve efficiency on dairy farms.
Dairymaster Research and Innovation Manager, Dr. John Daly explains: “Our equipment and technology is constantly changing and improving because of our commitment to innovation. Everything we do is driven by performance and how it saves farmers time and makes their business more efficient and profitable.”
Inspiring the next generation of innovators
Herdwatch CEO Fabien Peyaud believes the example of companies such as Dairymaster and Keenan provides inspiration for a new generation of disruptive Irish innovators.
Mr Peyaud says: “Ireland is very much one of the leading agritech countries in the world. We have beacons such as Dairymaster and Keenan Systems, who constantly innovate for farmers and that’s really where our inspiration came from.
“Herdwatch is now the number one farm software provider in Ireland and the UK and hopefully what we’re doing is inspiring the next generation of innovators out there to take it to the next level.”
“You also have Enterprise Ireland and other agencies nurturing this kind of constant innovation and entrepreneurship. I think these are all reasons why so many new, innovative companies are in Ireland.”
But is there a risk that farmers will become overburdened by technology?
Mr Peyaud says: “We believe that at some point there will be a need for convergence because farmers will demand it. We’re looking at tying together all the apps that farmers have to interact with on one platform so they can get the actionable information they need.
“Herdwatch wants to be that platform because we believe 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.”
Moocall’s approach to innovation has been to effectively connect cows to their farmer through the use of wearable technology such as calving sensors and heat monitors.
Paul Kenny, International Sales Manager for Moocall, says: “We’re using sensor technology and the power of the mobile network to connect the animal to the farmer. So with the calving sensor, the cow is basically texting the farmer, and it is also emailing the farm office, and then there’s a Moo Moo app alert that anybody can download. So you’ve three forms of alert coming from the cow calving that are replacing labour units on the farm.”
How collaboration drives innovation
Abbey Machinery has been one of Ireland’s largest agricultural manufacturers for more than 70 years and acutely recognises that innovation is vital to remaining relevant in a global market.
Michael O’Grady, Business Development Manager at Abbey Machinery, says: “Innovation is the most important thing we do to improve our feeding, slurry and grassland management machines and make them affordable for the farmer.
“Some of our suppliers we’ve been partnering with on innovation for 30 or 40 years, and we’ve a new group of partners which we’re partnering with for new technologies.
“Enterprise Ireland is brilliant at bringing it all together, connecting research and development partners, encouraging collaboration, identifying markets and opportunities, nurturing and providing advice to help us make a difference for farmers.”
Learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports here.