With Brexit the hot topic at this year’s Irish Ploughing Championships, Alex Black spoke to Enterprise Ireland’s James Maloney about the future of Irish technology in the UK
Irish agritech companies are looking to new opportunities to insulate them from the effects of Brexit, but the UK would remain a major focus for manufacturers regardless of the future trading environment.
With so many similarities between British and Irish agriculture and the proximity of the two countries, Irish businesses found the UK a natural first export market.
And both start-ups and established businesses would be keeping their focus on the UK marketplace.
At this year’s Irish Ploughing Championships, the Innovation Hub, set up by Enterprise Ireland, showcased the latest technology looking to make farming ‘safer and more efficient’.
With increasing farm sizes and challenges of finding farm labour, James Maloney, Enterprise Ireland’s senior regional development executive, believed robotics and artificial intelligence would play a huge role in farming’s future.
“The technology is here, it is how we adapt it into agriculture,” he said, adding the best inventions had to be ‘farmer friendly’ by being simple to use – as farmers would not be excited by something which caused complications.
He believed Ireland had been so successful in its agritech sector because its people had a ‘natural affinity’ with farming.
“If you look at Ireland, we are all about two generations from the land,” he said.
Mr Maloney said Irish technology had been so successful in the UK because of the similarities between the two countries and he was confident this relationship would remain.
“It is a massive market for us,” he said.
“Brexit is a problem, but we have been trading together for more than 2,000 years. We would very much like the Northern Irish border to be soft.
“The unpredictability is making it very hard for our manufacturers.”
However, manufacturers were being advised to consider diversifying into other markets to offset the effect any trading friction could have on the industry.
Mr Maloney said these other markets included New Zealand, which many manufacturers were looking at, as the farming conditions were similar to those in Ireland.
“Basically, anywhere there is grass,” he said.
“We are also looking at Germany and France which are going to be bigger markets, we are seeing a record number of buyers. That is what we have to do. But it does not diminish the importance of the UK.”
Data and data collection will be the big opportunities for Irish manufacturers in the UK market over the coming years.
Manufacturers at the Irish Ploughing Championships were showcasing new ways of collecting and utilising data, including by drone, during milking and with machine learning.
Edmond Harty, Dairymaster chief executive, said they were looking for ways to give farmers precision data in real-time, as the firm launched new rotary milking parlours which provided data on things including somatic cell counts as the cow was milked.
This allowed farmers to identify problems with individual cows’ milk before it enters the tank.
On Brexit, Mr Harty said it was an uncertain time but the UK was an important market for them.
“The big question is how it is going to affect my customers,” he said.
“If it is good for customers, it is good for us. There are two customer bases, those in the UK and in Ireland. The reality is it is unclear how it is going to affect them.
“It comes down to profitability. That is where we see technology playing a huge role. All those things will become much more important.”