When it comes to the fields of agriculture and technology, Ireland has always punched above its weight. So how is it faring when the two are combined? Unsurprisingly, rather well. From state-of-the-art crop growing firms to the latest wearable tech for livestock, we have profiled some of the most exciting entrepreneurs and their businesses in the sector
Jennifer (CEO) and Kevin Corley (app product manager
Based on the Curragh of Kildare, the heart of Irish racing, interest is galloping in equine health technology company EquiTrace.
Co-founded by husband and wife duo Jennifer and Kevin Corley, the company has developed a horse health platform application. It works with a horse’s microchip to identify, locate and track animals as they move while also recording their temperature and health records.
The Corleys, who are specialist equine vets, are now on a mission to bring the horse industry into the digital age.
“Horse people are deeply conservative and often reluctant to use technology,” CEO Jennifer said. “Making technology that works for horse people is key. User experience is deeply important to us, and we have been delighted to find the lads like this, enjoy using it and are changing their attitude to digital solutions.”
With the solution up and running, EquiTrace is currently used to monitor 19,562 horses and aims to reach over a million horses in five years. Earlier this month, Merck Animal Health, which is linked to pharma giant Merck, announced a strategic partnership with EquiTrace to bring the product to the US.
● Malone Farm Machinery
Mike Malone, founder and managing director
Malone Farm Machinery is a Mayo-based agricultural machinery manufacturer specialising in grass harvesting equipment.
Founder Mike Malone said that back in 1999, he spotted a gap in the market for log splitters, toppers and post drivers.
“I started with those, and the business has expanded to where it is today,” he says. “Building a dealer network from scratch was a huge challenge as well as facing the usual cash flow challenges that all new businesses experience.”
The Covid pandemic presented huge challenges, but 2021 has been a positive year, says Malone.
“The business is recovering well from the Covid pandemic, and we forecast growth for the years ahead,” he says.
“The biggest challenge currently is the ever-increasing cost of raw materials, and also skilled labour shortages are a huge challenge. However, this remains a vibrant and always evolving industry that remains enjoyable to be a part of.”
Malone expects to increase the firm’s grass harvesting product line in the years ahead and hopes to develop export markets further.
“We would hope to increase our workforce and provide more local employment in our area,” he says.
Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO and
There has been a fair bit of buzz surrounding ApisProtect, a tech company that uses AI technology to extract and interpret data from beehives.
Founded in 2017 with a mission to design and create hive-management technology, ApisProtect has built a system involving sensors, global communications, and AI to improve beekeeping outcomes for keepers.
Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy said ApisProtect had worked with commercial and hobbyist beekeepers across the US and Ireland to help develop the monitoring system. It has already monitored over 100 million honeybees worldwide to date, with plans for growth.
“In the next five to 10 years, I would hope to have the ApisProtect monitors available to beekeepers all over the globe,” she said.
The Financial Times-backed Sifted website listed the Cork-based company as one of the Irish startups to watch in 2021. In 2018, it raised $2.6m in seed funding.
“Ireland is a fantastic country to be operating an agritech startup,” said Dr Edwards Murphy.
“We have such a fantastic reputation worldwide for the high standard of our agriculture and technology sectors.
“It seems like an obvious sector for us to excel into [with] international customers.”
Alvan Hunt and John Lynam, co-founders
Meath firm Hexafly uses revolutionary breeding and bio-conversion technologies in its bid to fulfil an ambitious aim: to use insects to feed the world.
“We maximise the extraction of high-value protein and oil products for the aquaculture, animal feed and plant nutrition industries,” says CEO Alvan Hunt.
“Our process produces no waste, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, optimises land usage, utilises industrial and agricultural waste streams and improves animal nutrition and health.
“We work to stop the overexploitation of land and sea and to ultimately add to the progress of the human race.”
With backgrounds in biology and chemistry, Hunt and co-founder John Lynam always had an eye on the future, specifically the problem of food scarcity.
“We realised the food chain needed to be revolutionised, but it would have to help feed both animals and humans,” says Hunt.
The pair plan to bring Hexafly to the next level with fundraising to build a new facility. They have an ambition for more around the globe and hope to produce more than 10,000 tonnes of insect protein each year. It is actively engaged with several global companies in the animal feed, agritech, waste management and manufacturing industries.
Annemarie O’Brien, CEO
Equimetrics is currently developing a wearable monitoring device for horses that measures essential biometric health and behavioural data. The Kilkenny firm plans to launch the technology next year.
Founder Annemarie O’Brien came up with the idea after losing a horse to colic: “The symptoms had developed during the night when the horse was not under observation.
“Colic symptoms can be subtle and can be progressing over a number of hours. Had we been aware of what was happening with the horse, we would have been able to get a vet to the horse earlier, and we might have been able to save him,” she says.
Realising that such a monitoring device did not exist, she set up the firm five years ago to take on the challenge of developing a suitable wearable tech solution for horses that could collect and transmit a range of information, as well as providing alerts.
"Designing a wearable tech solution for equine use is extremely challenging. Ensuring that the device sits safely on the horse without causing any discomfort and its usability in the field were really important,” she says.
“It has taken years of prototyping and testing to get to where we are — but now we have all of the pieces of the jigsaw in place, and the finishing line is in sight,” she says.
Eoghan Finneran, managing director
Brendan Allen had long struggled to interpret data from paper maps of his farm.
From that struggle was born Farmeye, which now uses web-based technologies to measure and manage soil health and land management metrics.
The initial software was built as part of an Enterprise Ireland funded project in NUIG and subsequently spun out by Allen along with Eoghan Finneran and Joe Desbonnet in 2017.
“Pasture-based food production has a very positive story to tell in terms of carbon footprint and biodiversity, but the weakness is that historically, farm-level data for this sector has been a black-hole,” says co-founder and managing director Finneran.
“Farmeye solves this problem by combining novel satellite and remotely captured data with ‘boots-on-the-ground’ surveys.”
Farmeye has been primarily self-funded through cash flow and plenty of sweat equity, he says. It received investment via the National Digital Research Centre and is currently fundraising via an EIIS round to fund its international development.
The firm is not short on ambition: in 10 years, Finneran expects it will be the foremost platform for farm-level metrics related to pasture-based food production in the world, and turnover could hit €9m in five years.
Emmet Savage, CEO
When Niall Austin, a co-founder of wearable technology for cows company Moocall, lost a cow and a calf following a problematic calving session, he decided something had to be done.
Having worked as a farmer, he managed to identify specific tail movements that he believed act as an early warning that calving was about to occur.
The tail movements swung into Moocall’s calving sensor, which alerts farmers when a cow is ready to calf.
The company also has a wearable collar that detects the start of standing heat in a cow.
Since its products launched in 2014, Moocall has milked success. Moocall’s sensors are available in 65 countries; it secured €3.6m in investment two years ago from backers including Michael Smurfit and recently announced its first profit of just over €19,000 last year.
“It really is this simple — Innovate or die,” said CEO Emmet Savage. “We are always looking at our current solutions and could they be better. We also look at emerging technologies and how we can adopt and adapt to these.
“There are lots of great ideas out there, but if they don’t actually solve a problem, then they are useless.”
● The Yield Lab Europe
Nicky Deasy, managing partner
Starting life as an accelerator, agritech-focused The Yield Lab Europe put its foot down on a journey that has seen it rise to become a fully-fledged early-stage venture capital fund.
Since 2017, The Yield Lab Europe has raised nearly €60m of capital and has invested in 13 startups.
Six of the startups are Irish, with some included on this list. Backers of the Irish-based fund include Enterprise Ireland, AIB, several Irish family offices and European investors.
Managing partner Nicky Deasy said the business had been performing very well, with its first two funds already showing “good upticks in valuation”. She claimed that deal flow is also “very strong”, with several more set to close by the end of the year.
On sustainability, Deasy said The Yield Lab Europe believed technology would provide the solutions to help farming move to a sustainable and carbon-neutral footing.
“Our job is to find these startups, invest in them, mentor them, and help them scale and go to market and to commercialise their technologies to farmers and customers,” she said. “If we do that really well, we will have played a vital role in helping to make farming more sustainable, both in Ireland and internationally.”
Fabien Peyaud, CEO and co-founder
Roscrea firm Herdwatch has a singular mission: to simplify farming.
It provides market-leading farm management software across Ireland and the UK and is used on 15,000 beef, dairy and sheep farms.
“Our mission is to simplify, automate and digitalise farm tasks and make farmers’ lives easier so they can spend less time on paperwork and more time on the things that matter most to them,” says CEO Fabien Peyaud.
“Our app allows farmers to access critical information to help them make faster and better decisions.”
A former IT manager at FRS Network (Farm Relief Services) in Roscrea, Peyaud realised that most farmers did not use any form of software to manage their farm. So with FRS backing, he began building Herdwatch 10 years ago.
"Herdwatch was by far my biggest challenge with very hard work for many years,” says Peyaud.
The company has significant expansion plans and recently announced a doubling of its team over the next three years to 80 staff.
“We want to grow the business to its full potential,” says Peyaud.
“In five years, Herdwatch will be present in more international markets, and in 10 years’ time, we are aiming to be the platform of choice for farmers globally.”
● StrongBó Agritech
Micheal McInerney, managing director and co-founder
StrongBó develops data-driven decision-making tools and animal welfare devices for beef farmers. Its first product, the BovineHub, is an automated animal weighing device that uses a mineral lick to attract animals on to the device.
The device identifies the animal, weighs it and sends the data to the cloud, where it is analysed and presented to the farmer via an online dashboard.
“Beef farming has seen little change at a time when other agri sectors have been revolutionised by new tech and big data,” says co-founder Michael McInerney, an engineer with experience in the medical devices and internet-of-things sectors.
“Beef farmers did not have the same level of information on their herd compared to dairy farmers. Aware of the drama associated with manually extracting live weights from a pen of bulls, we knew there needed to be an alternative.”
The Galway firm developed technology for a weighing system that ultimately extended into an entire technology platform that it believes can reshape beef production methods.
The firm now has customers on three continents, and it has just partnered with Metzger, a large Canadian veterinary business.
Online auction platform MartEye helps farmers purchase livestock and machinery from marts across Ireland and the UK.
It was a service born out of necessity, says co-founder Ciaran Feeney: “Covid-19 had closed the marts and farmers needed to trade.”
The Galway firm was already working on another agritech product but put that on hold to focus all its resources on marts.
“To say there was pressure before our first online sale would be an understatement. We hadn’t even given a demonstration, let alone a live test. The night before the sale, things did not go smoothly, but after a very long night, we had the application ready”.
The app was, initially, by no means beautiful, he says, but that day it helped sell over €178k of livestock, and mart managers immediately began calling from all over the country.
The firm went straight back to the drawing board to develop a fully scalable, secure product in just months, with its live video auction system launching in May 2020. It needed to develop its own custom media processing pipeline to handle unreliable internet speed at some marts.
It now hosts thousands of online sales for over 550,000 people watching from 151 countries and is on course to hit €1bn of trade through the platform by the end of December.
● Real Leaf Farm
Karen Hennessy, CEO
Real Leaf Farm is a new agritech company with plans to help sustainable hydroponic farming sprout, grow and flourish across Ireland and the UK.
Co-founder and CEO Karen Hennessy said Real Leaf Farm is planning to build a network of eight hydroponic farms across Ireland and the UK over five years.
Its first potential site in Co Offaly has recently received planning permission.
The company, which will grow leafy greens throughout the year, has also started on an investment round worth €25m.
Hennessy said its Real Leaf Farm was currently in the build phase, with initial planting scheduled for May.
Hennessy described the opportunity as unique, with the potential to substitute imports and develop more efficient and sustainable models in farming.
“It is also a Brexit solution provider as most of our imports are currently travelling through the UK land bridge,” she added.
The company is to begin recruitment next year and is working with Athlone Institute of Technology and UCC on skills training and trials.
To date funding has been from seed investment from the main founders of the company, as well as an award of €1m under the Just Transition Fund.
Aidan Connolly, CEO
Having grown up in the family behind Comex McKinnon, one of Ireland’s largest grain importers and exporters, the seeds of success in agriculture had long been sown for David and Ross Hunt, co-founders of Cainthus.
Founded in 2016, Cainthus is a computer vision and artificial intelligence company focused on the dairy industry. Its smart cameras observe nutritional, behavioural, health and environmental activities that can affect production. It translates this visual information into actionable insights for farmers, helping improve operations, animal health, and welfare.
Since Cainthus went commercial last year, CEO Aidan Connolly said it was expecting strong growth.
“Getting on-farm was really tough during 2021,” he said. “So we are especially delighted with our commercial performance despite the difficulties in getting on-farm presented by Covid.
“It was really positive to see a general increase in digital tool use among farmers during the pandemic.”
Looking ahead, Connolly said he hoped the Dublin-based firm would become a global business that “defines livestock farm productivity, sustainability, and welfare.”
He added there would be a new cow health-focused product from Cainthus out next year.
● Cotter Agritech
Cotter Agritech was co-founded by serial entrepreneur siblings Jack (23) and Nick (20)
They invented The Cotter Crate, a unique sheep handling and monitoring system, to revolutionise how sheep farmers care for their animals.
The idea was born when the brothers and their father, Nick Senior, had difficulty handling their young lambs.
“It was hugely stressful on the animals and meant lots of backache being crouched over all day,” says CEO Nick Cotter.
They first devised a crate from wood and box iron but improved it over several years before bringing it to the Innovation Arena at the National Ploughing Championships.
“More than 100 farmers said they wanted to purchase the invention, and it won every award category it was entered in,” he says.
This drove the brothers to commercialise it and add functionality such as weighing, drafting and integrated software.
Currently in final prototyping, the system is in use at 19 top commercial sheep farms across Ireland and the UK, with research projects ongoing with UCD and Queens University Belfast.
The brothers expect it to launch on the market early next year.
● Brandon Bioscience
Oliver Kiernan, CEO
For most people, the brown seaweed that grows along Ireland’s shores would go overlooked.
But Oliver Kiernan, the CEO of CO Kerry-based Brandon Bioscience, isn’t most people, and he spotted an opportunity. Off the back of the weed, the entrepreneur has helped build an award-winning company with significant global potential.
Kiernan’s marine biotech firm Brandon Bioscience has developed a new bio-stimulant product using extracts from common brown seaweed.
The product has the potential to reduce chemical nitrogen input on farms by up to 20pc, leading the company to be named as the winner of this year’s Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards.
Looking to the future, Kiernan is excited by the potential for Brandon Bioscience.
“The plan for Brandon Bioscience is to continue our work in research focused solutions for the agriculture industry,” he said.
“As a team, we strive to improve the health and wellbeing of a growing population in a more natural, ethical, and sustainable way.
“Our vision for the future is a world where Bio-stimulants are mainstream crop inputs delivering increased crop quality and productivity to feed a growing world demand in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.”
● Microgen Biotech
Dr Xuemei Germaine, founder and CEO
When a Chinese delegation at an Enterprise Ireland trade mission heard Dr Xuemei Germaine talk about her PhD and techniques that help clean polluted soil, it took action.
With reports suggesting about 20pc of arable land in China is polluted, the delegation soon asked Germaine, who was born in China, to put together a team in her native land. She did so, with an operational team continuing to function there and an R&D team in Ireland.
Microgen Biotech was founded as a spin-out from IT Carlow, where it has developed technology to ensure better food safety and soil health. Its technology blocks the uptake of heavy metals by crops on contaminated ground, working on the soil to break down pollutants and support the growth of good bacteria to restore sites to fertile land.
Last year, it raised $3.8m in a funding round led by several top US and European agritech investors, bringing its total funding raised to $8.5m.
Microgen has primarily focused on the Chinese market, having already registered some solutions with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. However, key growth markets for the Enterprise Ireland and The Yield Lab Europe-backed company include Europe and North America.
Farmony has developed a system of high output, controlled environment vertical farms that it says produce fresh, great-tasting and pesticide-free food, locally and sustainably year-round.
It is part of a new breed of companies developing food growing systems to help meet the challenges such as the global population likely hitting 10bn by 2050 and — more locally — the import of €1.3bn of fruit, vegetables and salads annually.
“Humanity is currently growing food in the wrong places and transporting that food 1,000s of miles to reach consumers,” says co-founder Dan O’Brien.
“Our food systems are facing significant climate, labour, carbon emissions and land use issues. Our team has a deep passion for food and horticulture and using the power of data and insights to address these big challenges,” he says.
Ireland’s underinvestment in horticulture over the years presents an opportunity to adopt the best approaches without being tied to legacy infrastructure, he says. But international markets are critical to Farmony’s growth plans, with sales in 10 markets
in the last 12 months providing a solid foundation.
Gary Wickham, CEO and co-founder
When the late Derek Wickham had a chance encounter with Florida-based inventor and farmer Ted Lenhardt over dinner in the US, it was more than just the food that was up for discussion.
The chance dinner chat, which featured a conversation on the challenges with conventional pesticide spraying, led to the foundation of MagGrow, a company pioneering magnetic spraying technology for arable crops and horticulture.
Gary Wickham, who co-founded the company alongside his late brother Derek and David Moore, knew there was a significant opportunity from the start. He estimates the retrofit market
for MagGrow’s flagship tractor boom product is around €14bn.
MagGrow has over 250 installations worldwide and has also signed a non-exclusive deal with Trimble Ag to access its global dealer base. However, Wickham said he isn’t done there, with big plans to grow MagGrow further.
“We aim to have our award-winning technology on as many farms globally as possible,” he said.
“We plan to have several new products and applications launched. To support this, we will establish a number of new divisions, add key personnel and open more research facilities.”
● Terra NutriTECH
Kildare firm Terra NutriTECH has developed technology to deliver supplement nutrition to cattle accurately.
“We have developed both the technology and the mineral manufacturing processes to deliver a full solution for farms in Ireland and abroad. Effectively we have developed a Nespresso machine to provide Berocca for cows,” says CEO Padraig Hennessy.
The firm is growing rapidly year on year, he says: “Our technology is garnering increased interest right around the globe, and we believe we have all the elements in place to bring Terra NutriTECH to the next level,” says Hennessy.
The firm is about to launch a new mobile mineral system that will cater for all sizes of farms and that it hopes will drive growth at home and abroad.
“We don’t see any reason why we can’t double the size of our business over the next three years,” he says.
“We are also part of a major R&D project with Lyons UCD and Bioatlantis with the aim of reducing ammonia and methane emissions from cows. This is a major challenge and will need to be solved in order to make milk and meat consumption more sustainable.”
● Micron Agritech
Daniel Izquierdo Hijazi, founder and CEO
It was the idea of creating something revolutionary that spurred the founders of Micron Agritech to make their product more than just a college project.
Micron Agritech has developed a product that helps vets and farmers rapidly test animals for parasites on-site using their mobile phones.
CEO Daniel Izquierdo Hijazi said the Dublin-founded company was born after discussions with a student vet, who highlighted the importance of making testing more accessible to farmers.
“It would be revolutionary for vets and animal owners,” said Izquierdo of the feedback received from the student vet. “So we took this challenge on and created the Micron Kit, the test that can be done with a phone with near-real-time results.”
Micron claims its AI-backed kit can deliver results for farmers faster than the current method of sending samples to a lab, which can mean waiting five days for results. Hijazi said the kit would also help farmers stay compliant with incoming EU and Irish regulations requiring evidence to treat animals with antiparasitic medication and save time and money.
Micron is still pre-revenue, though it has carried out beta-testing with over 40 farmers and vets.