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How Ireland is becoming an agritech island

James Maloney, a senior regional development executive at Enterprise Ireland, outlines how innovative Irish agritech companies are helping to combat some of the world’s toughest challenges.

One of the biggest challenges facing the world is how to feed a population set to grow from today’s 7.6 billion to 8.6 billion by 2030, 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100. Irish agritech companies will play a key role in helping to meet that challenge.

Enterprise Ireland recently announced two initiatives that are part of its ongoing work to support agritech companies to innovate and win in international markets, from start-up stage to the point at which they become established international players.

Last month, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys officially encouraged Irish agritech and agricultural companies to apply for the Innovation Arena Awards that will be announced during the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan in September.

The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena is a unique platform in which Irish companies display pioneering developments, with more than 100 international buyers attending in 2017. Last year’s competition attracted 200 entries, 69 of which were shortlisted as finalist exhibitors at the Innovation Arena.

Enterprise Ireland also recently funded the development of a dedicated agritech R&D facility in Tralee to further support agritech innovation.

The word ‘agritech’ tends to conjure images of drones patrolling farms, autonomous tractors and harvesters, robotic milkers, and other futuristic technologies. While those images are accurate, the most important agritech developments will be those that support sustainability and allow us to do more with less, as we continue to produce high-quality food for the world’s rapidly growing population.

Ireland might be a relatively small agricultural producer globally but what we do in the sector, we do extremely well. Ireland has the highest standard of agricultural education in Europe and has established a well-deserved reputation for innovation across the entire agricultural value chain.

Irish agri-engineering exports are now worth a quarter of a billion euro annually to the Irish economy. Machinery produced by Irish manufacturers harvests grass throughout the world and is responsible for feeding cattle on every continent.

With regard to food quality, Ireland competes with the very best internationally, thanks to extremely low rates of antibiotic usage, no hormone usage, very high standards of animal welfare, and full traceability from fork to farm.

None of these developments occurred by accident. Striking the right balance between increased production and high standards of animal welfare and sustainability requires a combination of best farming practice and the kinds of innovative agricultural technologies Irish companies are becoming increasingly known for developing.

Irish companies like Abbey Machinery, McHale and Hi-Spec are already world leaders in the specialised production of machinery, such as mixer wagons for feeding cattle, high-quality baling and wrapping systems, slurry spreaders, agricultural trailers, and handling equipment for grain.

Dairymaster also leads the way internationally, with significant investments in in-house R&D and a strong customer focus. The company’s latest innovation is a smartphone app that allows farmers to remotely control their milk tank.

Another innovative Irish business, Moocall, has developed a collar worn by bulls that detects which cows are in heat and monitors the bull’s activity.

Keenan Systems’ InTouch service uses telematics to connect its mixer wagons in the field to a data centre in Ireland’s County Carlow, allowing for remote adjustment of feed mixes to optimise yield or milk production.

Equilume’s technology, which was originally developed to manage fertility in horses, has been proven to boost milk yields by up to 9% per annum.

In another area entirely, MagGrow has developed a technology which magnetises the droplets from a sprayer, causing them to bind better with plants, thereby reducing the amount of liquid required.

The need for change in traditional agricultural systems is being driven by a range of powerful forces, including pesticide reduction initiatives, the need to reduce antibiotic use, increased scarcity of water, and the challenge to provide sustainable food production systems for the growing world population. As Irish companies develop innovative solutions to meet these challenges, the world is taking notice.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.

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