Ireland has the potential to become “a real leader” in agricultural technology (agtech), as long as the “right ecosystem” is created for companies to be able to collaborate and help each other grow.

With researchers estimating that the total value of the agtech market could reach $22.5 billion by 2025 globally, rising from $9 billion in 2020; there is reason for optimism and continued innovation according to Padraig Hennessy, CEO of Terra NutriTECH and chairman of newly-launched Agtech Ireland.

‘An emerging sector’

The idea for Agtech Ireland came from Hennessy identifying a “need for collaboration” between agtech companies in Ireland; to have a space for them to come together and share ideas.

“It’s an emerging sector – we’ve a fantastic agricultural industry on the island and a fantastic tech industry – so it’s about this all coming together,” he told Agriland.

Agtech Ireland is the first of its kind in Ireland, with a mission to represent companies “across policy, research and farm level”.

It is a “purpose-driven, membership-funded organisation”, governed by an executive council of: Padraig Hennessy; Cormac Farrelly, Agriland; David Leydon, ifac; James Greevy, Herdwatch; Lloyd Pearson, Pearson Milking Technology; Ursula Kelly, Cormac Tagging; and Dan O’Brien, Farmony.

Its aim is “to showcase the benefits of technology adoption on farm and communicate how agtech has a key role in sustainability to all stakeholders moving forward”.

Hennessy said that agtech is essentially all about communicating “valuable and actionable information” to farmers.

“Getting a text saying a cow is calving, that’s agtech at the cutting edge – giving you actionable insights on what to do,” he explained.

“What farmers want is clear, actionable information. They don’t really care what happens behind the scenes – they want to know if a cow is calving, yes or no; do I have a leak in my water pipes? yes or no; is my bulk tank working? yes or no.”

‘The industry needs to change’

A significant reason why technological innovation is so important in the industry is the climate crisis.

Hennessy said that “the industry needs to change – needs to become more efficient and effective in order to mitigate some of those challenges coming down the line”.

“Ultimately it’s technology that’s going to help, whether that’s in better genetics; better farm practices; supplements that could help reduce methane; better farm management styles; less waste; etc,” he continued.

“Then there’s even changing consumer preferences, and being able to incorporate agtech all the way through the supply chains – in order to get the right product into the right hand at the right time and in order to do that, factories and others need to be able to get information from farms.

“Between all the various different factors that are changing, it’s really important to get that agtech out onto a farm and that’s ultimately what’s going to protect farmers’ incomes for the next 10 or 20 years – as there will be a sea change of new problems coming for farmers due to the change of environment over the next decade.”

Inclusivity a priority for Agtech

At the moment, Agtech Ireland is focusing on signing up members. Hennessy said that members can be “anyone from individuals with a real passion for agtech; to companies or stakeholders who are involved with agtech in some way or another; or, indeed, involved with farmers in some way or another”.

“Step two” will involve starting to set up some working groups – as “certain people have certain passions – for one company it might be networking and talking to others in agtech; for another company it might be starting to look at data and data standards”.

“There’s a lot of different value to be added to a lot of different companies,” Hennessy added.

“And, indeed, there’s a lot of start-up companies in the agtech space who just want to be part of something bigger where they can learn, where they can get some value, and even help promote their own companies through a wider network.

“There’s also a lot of farmers out there with a huge thirst for knowledge and we want to promote the sector.

“What we’re trying to do is bring all the strands together. We’re trying to be an inclusive organisation that can help bring agriculture into the next phase, into what would be dubbed the fourth revolution of agriculture.

“All of the members are passionate about agriculture, passionate about the message – because agriculture is getting bombarded from every side at the moment.

“We want to be at the forefront in order to help with a cohesive message and show people what technology can do and how it can help everyone – from the consumers, the stakeholders and, ultimately, it has to be all about the farmer on the ground getting a better product, a higher price, and becoming more efficient and effective,” Hennessy concluded.