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Irish AgriTech Grows in International Significance

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by Startacus Admin

Irish Agritech
The agritech sector in Ireland can stake a claim as a major international agritech player. We take a look at a number of Irish agritech startups that continue to impress.

Written by Alastair Cameron, Startacus co-founder, Head of Startup Programmes at Digital DNA HQ, Maserati100, startup champion, freelance trainer.

Ireland is steeped in history as a farming nation and economy. 5000-odd years ago, the Céide Fields, found in County Mayo on the Alastair Cameron, Startacuswest coast of Ireland, gave birth to the oldest known field systems in the world, and an organised Irish farming community shaped this part of County Mayo.

In fact, as a whole, Ireland with its rain, temperate weather, and decent, moist, fertile soil has ever since enjoyed thousands of years as an economy driven by the land itself. Of course, it has not always been easy. After all, the potato famine is a world away from a thriving society and economy. However, post-1916, with the majority of Irish farming land no longer ‘owner occupied’, agriculture has continued to rise to the economic challenge.

In recent years, the knowledge economy has overtaken agriculture as the primary economic driver. Dublin, a hub of international high-tech excellence and innovation, has had Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Indeed, and TripAdvisor, to name but a few, all setting up shop in the city, and within a few miles of each other at that.

Ireland also ranks highly in international reports measuring innovation, often hitting the top ten based on key drivers.

A history of agriculture and farming, AND a new high-tech economy and workforce, help to create a recipe ripe for agricultural innovation.

Agritech IrelandBoth ingredients have thereby helped to plant the seeds for a European population prime for agricultural innovation and new technologies - agritech or AgTech as it is most commonly known. Smart irrigation, agribots, drones, predictive analytics, and data in the cloud are all terms not uncommon to a farming community embracing change.

Micheál Mclaughlin and John McElhone, two seventeen-year-old co-founders of a Co Derry based early-stage agritech startup, Cropsafe, offered this insight:

"Coming from a rural background, we have experienced first-hand the farming lifestyle. Its ups and downs. Some negatives being crop contamination. With this in mind, we came up with the idea of crop surveying using satellite imagery, using artificial intelligence to process these images. Then providing farmers with details of where crop contaminants are concentrated in their field.”

In fact, as I write this article, I recall the numerous times I have helped to run business ideation sessions in rural schools in Northern Ireland for Young Enterprise NI. When it comes to the kids creating ideas for digital businesses, it’s not uncommon for some of the groups to design businesses based on farming, tractors, and agriculture. You often live what you learn, be that at school, home, or your community.

Take into account an all-Ireland population of around 6.5m, which is relatively small in comparison to other European countries, and it’s fair to say the Irish agritech scene punches above its weight.

Of course there are threats. Ireland, much like other countries has an aging farming population. Brexit continues its in-out-in-out political dance, with Irish farmers Agritech in Irelandcontinuing to take stock of what a border, or hard border, or no border might mean for exporting to the UK, where the majority of its beef and dairy travels.  

And this is not an overnight success story. Throughout the North and South, there are established agritech companies that have been innovating for years.

Norbrook Technologies, a leading global provider of veterinary pharmaceuticals, and Devenish Nutrition, a company delivering sustainable and innovative nutritional products and solutions, are good examples of Northern Irish agritech companies that are market leaders. Devenish Nutrition last year secured €118m in funding.

In the South of Ireland, agritech companies such as Abbey Machinery, Dairymaster, Keenan System, Agrinet, and Hi-Spec, to name a few, are also established players in their specific fields - sorry.

But who are some of the latest standout crop of Irish agritech innovators that are impressing?  

In terms of apps, check out Herdwatch. Their herd management app was launched in 2014 and they have just acquired fellow Irish agritech app Bullmatch, a company matching cows with the most suitable bulls through computer power.

Fellow Irish agritech startup
Moocall also focus on the herd, creating various wearable devices for the cattle industry, connecting farmers to their cattle.

ApisProtectAnd in terms of species and matchmaking, if you are interested in the survival of honey bees (as we all should be), then the £1.5m-funded ApisProtect has the bees’ backs. The Cork-based agritech startup uses IoT sensors to monitor honey bee colonies, helping them to thrive.

Insect-focused Dublin startup Hexafly, are developing new material sources for the aqua feed, chitin, and plant nutrition industries. Their products come from the sustainable farming of insects - don’t ask me to explain the science. But in terms of a scalable solution, they must be talking the right buzzwords, as they’ve raised €3m to date, with their latest round only in February this year.

Sustainability in farming and the environment are now key international and consumer measurables for the farming industry and Galway-based startup Farmeye is aiming to be that critical first link in the digital chain of custody – from the supermarket back to the soil in the field of origin. Farmeye’s tech allows a food producer to measure, monitor, and demonstrate the sustainability metrics of their suppliers’ farms. Smart.

Fellow startup Arc-net, a Northern Irish based company, raised £2m in 2017. Using blockchain technology to provide traceability, they too are looking to revolutionise food supply chain security by measuring the supply-chain journey of food products.

MagGrowEfficiency is key to reducing costs in farming. An estimated 70% of pesticide spray does not reach its target crop. Award-winning, Dublin-based MagGrow has this covered. Their patented spraying system for the horticulture and arable sectors of the agricultural industry reduces drift by 70% whilst increasing coverage by 20-40%. Last November they raised €3M, meaning global growth gets a good bit easier.

Launched in 2013 in Shannon, Co Clare, Altratech, is a biotech and agritech company that designs biosensors and semiconductor chips for DNA testing of food traceability for agri business. Like MagGrow, they have raised big to help scale growth, with €6.1M in investment to date.

Biotech is certainly big business, and Altratech follows in the footsteps of longer established biotech companies in Ireland, such as BioAtlantis, a company engaged in the development of nutraceutical ingredients for the plant, human, and animal markets.

Investment is a key indicator of a thriving industry sector, and the recent launch of funds such as the Ireland AgTech Fund and the Galway based AgTech accelerator programme Yield Lab Europe, are key indicators that, whilst Ireland is relatively small in terms of global population, it is big in ambition to be a leading agritech innovator for years to come.

If you are reading this and you are a NI based startup....

Northern Ireland startups sought for upSTART 2019 - Entries are now open for upSTART, Northern Ireland’s most exciting startup pitch competition which features an all-expenses paid trip to explore the New York tech scene for the winner.


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Published on: 23rd March 2019

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