'Conventional online shopping doesn't work for farmers'

Technology: University of Limerick lecturer John Garvey has developed the FarmHedge app for farmers and agri suppliers
Technology: University of Limerick lecturer John Garvey has developed the FarmHedge app for farmers and agri suppliers
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

John Garvey doesn't believe his new app FarmHedge is online shopping for farmers - he feels it goes beyond that and is game-changing for both farmers and suppliers.

The farmer's son who grew up on a sheep, beef and suckler farm a few miles from the "cross of Spancil Hill" in Co Clare is well aware of the challenges and complications that farmers face when purchasing equipment online.

With this in mind, in 2014, the University of Limerick senior lecturer got his thinking cap on and the developing seeds of what is now the FarmHedge app were sown.

FarmHedge is one of 15 start-ups that have been chosen to take part in Google's Adopt a Start-Up programme.

Garvey says the programme will be "massively beneficial" and that they are already working on new developments to the app and how to better understand their farmer customers.

The app has a team of suppliers connected to the platform who get an alert when a farmer searches for a product. The suppliers can also offer discounts and quotes to farmers in need of products.

"This helps reduce the transaction costs involved for suppliers dealing with farmers. It also helps agri companies build an online presence without extra work or training," explains John.

"It's a mobile platform so if you require a machinery part or animal feed, which is very popular amongst Irish consumers, you can buy in bulk.

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"It's a 24-hour system. It's flexible and saves time, if three farmers in an area are looking for something, suppliers may also offer something to reduce the price."

He says that the app is also transforming the way farmers buy products online.

"If a farmer's mower breaks down in a field, they can take a photo of the part they need and it will alert suppliers - and they can make an offer and they could have the part ordered before they leave the field," adds John.

"I don't think traditional online shopping works for farmers. This benefits both sides. We're not just an online version of an agri business.

Costs

"There's an individual at the other side of things, it's not static. It can solve and reduce transaction costs and is sitting in the farmers' pocket, you're not searching a website, this is happening in real time."

He feels that the cost saving element is what will attract more and more farmers to join FarmHedge, but says that the savings vary from situation to situation.

In 2014, Garvey received a €200,000 grant from Enterprise Ireland to kickstart the app, which he says was a challenge for a man who started out his career with a BA in English and Economics from NUI Galway before doing a Masters in Investment and Treasury in DCU.

"I used a lot of my own credit card money before this, which wasn't the greatest of times so getting the grant was a real opportunity."

In 2016, more luck came John's way when FarmHedge took part in a German Accelerator programme run by European agribusiness giants RWA and BayWa.

"The companies both invested in FarmHedge and now have a minority stake in the business which has opened up the European market to us," says the Clare man.

"We're doing business in Austria and Hungary as well as looking at options for the UK.

"There's a higher level of growth in Austria and Hungary because we have the support of BayWa and RWA."

"I think they see it as a defence against Amazon and the likes."

Garvey says that there are 20 independent Irish companies signed up to FarmHedge and over 1,500 farmers and that he is in talks with two other large Irish agribusinesses.

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