Irish agritech is now improving farm efficiency around the world

Anna May McHugh, director of NPA, then-business minister Heather Humphreys, and Julie Sinnamon, then-CEO of Enterprise Ireland promoting the Innovation Arena at the heart of the National Ploughing Championships in 2018. Photo: Fennell Photography

From bioscientific solutions and cutting-edge technology, to the latest in engineering innovations and farm management systems, the pioneering Irish agritech sector is truly transforming farming around the world. As well as making farms more efficient, solutions from the Irish agritech sector are also helping to contribute to food security and the fight against climate change.

Irish agritech is working on farms in every continent, as the sector seeks to build on and leverage our strong reputation as a trusted agricultural producer. While the UK remains our largest agritech market, that is shifting as our exports are rising rapidly to other markets such as the United States, the Nordic countries, Central Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

In fact, agritech accounts for €1bn in exports with the sector employing 4,000 people. It is vital to our food and dairy producers, as it helps to guarantee the future supply of raw materials to the wider sector.

Anyone attending the National Ploughing Championships this year can discover the latest in Irish agritech at Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena, as it returns to one of Europe’s largest outdoor events. Enterprise Ireland is looking forward to warmly welcoming visitors from 19 countries, who are coming to see what the 60 Irish agritech exhibitors in the Innovation Arena can offer agriculture in their home countries.

Looking to new global markets for companies in this sector is a key focus for Enterprise Ireland. As part of our Inward Buyer Programme, we look forward to welcoming over 100 international buyers who are visiting our Innovation Arena and client companies to see first-hand the leading innovative products made in Ireland. It is important to further develop existing relationships and create new partnerships to work with in the future, and are confident that this will yield positive results for our companies and international partners.

Not only does exhibiting at the Innovation Arena enable Irish agritech firms to meet these international buyers, but it also means they have the opportunity to engage with and to get feedback from many of the 300,000 visitors to the Ploughing. That’s crucial, as any agritech offering only works as a solution if it is actually needed on a farm. This endorsement from an end user or wider industry representatives and experts is invaluable. Furthermore, the Innovation Arena acts as a funnel to many other opportunities, directing many of the exhibitors to link up with venture capitalists, research centres or hubs such as the AgTechUCD innovation centre. Collaboration among all stakeholders will be key to harnessing the full potential of the sector to deliver positive results in an evolving farming industry.

Innovations developed in Ireland include everything from aspects of plant and animal science, decision support technology on farms reducing inputs costs, sensor technology and farm automation, along with our trusted engineering on farm.

As well as the return of the Innovation Arena Awards to this year’s National Ploughing Championships, there are five key categories of companies exhibiting at this year’s live and interactive arena, with the first being bioscience and biotechnology.

Marine biotechnology company Brandon Bioscience has collaborated with Target Fertilisers in Waterford, for example, to develop a fertiliser coated in a seaweed-based biostimulant. It increases efficiency by 20pc, meaning farmers can markedly cut their chemical fertilise.

The second category is comprised of digital, Internet of Things and sensor technology, with Pearson Milking Technology among the firms innovating in this area. Its cattle monitoring technology gives farmers detailed information on body condition and weight gain, while the level of feed is automatically adjusted for each animal based on the data.

The 2020 Innovation Arena winner, Malone Farm Machinery, are a great example of the next group of agritech firms, who are innovating in engineering. It developed the Malone Express bale trailer for handling and transporting baled silage. Because it carries an extra row of bales, it saves farmers on the cost of both fuel and labour.

In the fourth category – farm management software and decision support systems – Herdwatch will be present, and they have succeeded in attracting 16,000 farms as customers, each of them appreciating the ability to use smartphones to monitor animal movement and other daily activities.

When it comes to the final group of innovators, who focus on artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, Cotter Agritech is a good example of innovative solutions being developed in this particular area. It has added smart tech to its sheep handling unit to give farmers detailed information on the performance of lambs.

Ireland has long been recognised as having a strong agricultural and agriscience community, and now our growing agritech industry is making waves. Irish firms are developing the cutting-edge niche solutions needed by the industry, particularly in temperate climate pasture-based economies similar to ours.

Visit Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois from 20-22 September.