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Pioneer calls on high-tech to help granddad

Thanks to his clever grandson, Donegal farmer John McGinley can use a mobile phone to feed his sheep from a distance.

The 87-year-old is, in fact, the inspiration for a very 21st-century approach to the age-old task of feeding animals.

Stephen McGinley (24), of Killybegs, saw his granddad was getting on in years and wanted to "make things easier" for him, "because farming is very labour intensive".

The young graduate applied the latest technology to come up with his FarmFeeder, a solar-powered remotely activated automatic feeding system for agricultural and equestrian use.

A simple text message activates the trailer-based feeder to release calibrated doses of feed to waiting animals, in situations where the farmer has difficulty getting to them, perhaps because of bad weather or time constraints.

Not only was his granddad the inspiration, but John also did the real-life testing at his large farming operation in Kilcar, and proved that it was a winning idea.

"It worked great. He can now feed his sheep remotely from his mobile phone," said Stephen.

The FarmFeeder was part of Stephen's final-year project while completing his digital and software systems engineering course at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

Stephen, who also had a year's work experience with a large multinational under his belt, jumped at an invitation to develop his prototype further on a GMIT graduate entrepreneurship programme.

He brought it to last year's Ploughing Championships to get feedback from the people who matter most, the farming and equestrian communities.

"I demonstrated a semi-commercial prototype which was constructed with the help of a local Galway company, Sidhean Teo," said Stephen.

"Over the course of the three days I did over 700 demos to over 5,000 people.

"I got great feedback and advice from farmers and possible end-users of the product."

After that it was back to the classroom to fine-tune his product. He plans to put FarmFeeder on the market early next year.

Stephen is very enthusiastic about the role of technology in agriculture. "The technology is there and manufacturers and farmers need to keep an open mind and embrace it in terms of developing new products and innovative solutions.

"It has enormous potential in reducing risk and the need for manual labour as well as offering time-saving benefits," said Stephen.

He reckons that every farmer has an idea of his own, however, most don't know how to develop it or know what support is available.

Education is key and Stephen points to his entrepreneurship programme as typical of what is on offer in third-level colleges countrywide to help people develop their skills, or build on an idea.

All such courses are posted on the website, a CAO style one-stop shop for students returning to education. Some courses are free and part-time under the Government's Springboard programme, and allow participants to retain their unemployment benefits.

Springboard offers a wide range of programmes geared to the food, beverage and other industries.

"So many more people are re-training and using their new skills and technologies they have learned in adapting these to other industries like agriculture," said Stephen.

Indo Farming