An important area for innovation in Ireland is agritech. Not surprisingly for a country that produces some of the world’s best-quality meat, dairy products and produce, our industry is constantly coming up with excellent products to improve and optimise the agriculture sector. Many of these solutions are featured in the annual Innovation Arena Awards, held by Enterprise Ireland in conjunction with the Ploughing Championships.
“We have an excellent reputation for product robust technologies that have been tested and proven in a farm setting,” says James Maloney, Senior Regional Development Executive
“The science and R&D behind these really give us the edge, as well as our reputation as a high-quality food producer. With over 250,000 people employed in agriculture in Ireland, and the sector being such a huge beacon for regional development, it’s a very important area for us. It’s significant that most of the winners of this year’s awards are from different counties around Ireland, including Kerry, Kildare, Cork and Laois.”
This year’s winners
Now in its 11th year, the Innovation Arena Awards seek to celebrate and promote those entrepreneurs with a ground-breaking agri-related prototype or product. The awards traditionally take place at the Innovation Area during the Ploughing Championships; however, due to Covid-related restrictions, both the 2020 and the 2021 awards moved online, with shortlisted entrants pitching their idea to the panel of judges via a virtual platform.
“We had approximately 57 entries this year, similar to last year, and nearly every applicant had something to do with sustainability or efficiency,” says James. “This came through in a few ways – for instance as management software or IoT products, where companies were highlighting areas where efficiency could be improved.
“We also saw a lot of collaborations as well this year between traditional industry and other companies or universities. An excellent example of this is marine biotech company Brandon Bioscience in Tralee, who won the Sustainable Agriculture Award and was crowned Overall Winner. They teamed up with Target Fertiliser to develop a new fertiliser product using extracts from common brown seaweed. This product can reduce nitrogen use on farms by up to 20%. If you look at the Ag Climatise document and the Agriculture European Green Deal, we have to reduce our fertiliser use on the farms by 20%, so this product can deliver the same results thanks to the biostimulant properties. This is a European and a global issue, so the potential for this product is huge.”
The growth in veterinary innovation was reflected in a new award introduced this year, the Vet Technology Award, which recognises innovations made within healthcare in agriculture. This was won by EquiTrace, a product that reflects Ireland’s long and proud history as a leader in the equine industry. EquiTrace was also the winner of the Best Overall Start-Up Award.
“EquiTrace is a little microchip scanner that provides accurate data on your horse, such as temperature, location, medicine dosages and time and the horse’s whole medical record – getting this sort of data was a big issue with high-value horses in the past. But EquiTrace lets you run a scanner over the microchip’s location and all the data is then available through an app on your phone. Ireland is about third in the world for bloodstock sales, so a product like this is simply cementing our position as sector leaders.”
The Innovation Arena also welcomed two new partners this year. Ifac partnered on the Best Newcomer Award, which went to Moonsyst International, a smart monitoring system that collects real time data from livestock to help farmers increase productivity, detect disease earlier and monitor heat, water intake and movement. UCD Lyons also partnered on the Agritech Award, which was presented to FodderBox in Cork, a novel hydroponic system that creates efficiency in fodder growth. As the winner of this award, FodderBox will also be taking part in the new AgTechUCD Agcelerator Programme in UCD, an intensive 12-week programme that includes business development workshops, investor readiness training, mentoring from experts and advisers, and introductions to VC and angel networks. AgTechUCD was funded through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland.
A big reason why the Innovation Arena Awards attracts so many entries is the publicity each product receives. “Traditionally we would have had about 300,000 people at the Ploughing Championships, many of whom are buyers,” says James. “Last year we had to go online because of the pandemic, but the companies still got a huge amount of exposure. For example, last year’s overall winners, Malone Farm Machinery in Mayo, got about 17,000 views on YouTube in the first week for their compact 16-bale trailer; their sales guys said their phone was off the hook the next morning with enquiries. When you’re coming to the Innovation Arena, you’re really announcing that you have a product ready.”
All these winners are further underlining our strength in the world of agritech, a growing industry across Europe and the world – and an excellent way for Irish SMEs to flourish and prosper in the future.
For more information on the Innovation Arena, and other supports available to ambitious agritech companies, please see www.enterprise-ireland.com