Ireland is fertile soil for the global future of smart agriculture


In an article published recently in Silicon Republic, John Kennedy talks to Professor Willie Donnelly and other key players about Ireland’s smart agriculture future.

Most Irish people have ties with the land. Many don’t realise it, but if you go back through the family tree far enough, you will find a farming tradition in their genes.

While most of us gleefully complain about the weather – it is the nation’s number one conversation starter – the truth is that the island of Ireland owes its lush greenness to the abundance of rain.

‘Ireland is in a unique position because we are one of the leaders in ICT and we have all the big players here like IBM, Google, Amazon and Cisco. But, on the other side, our main indigenous industry is agriculture, so if you combine the two you really get a unique environment’, says Prof Willie Donnelly, President of WIT and founder of TSSG.

And so, this has meant not only a fertile soil but fertile imagination and ingenuity.

In fact, Irish farmers are the most prodigious users of technology and the internet. Going back to the 1990s, they used their phones and SMS to compare milk prices and grain yields. They are combining infrared camera technology with high-speed broadband to ensure cows and calves survive the calving season. And, as crime from the cities spreads into the countryside, they are at the forefront of using smart new security technologies and the power of smartphones to keep their communities on alert.

Researchers from TSSG, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), and organisations like Teagasc are working on new technologies that will utilise the best of ICT, analytics and sensors to increase quality and quantity of dairy and beef production.

Last year, a €446,000 collaboration between major Irish dairy producers Glanbia and Dairygold, and Irish researchers, was announced. It will employ data analytics and big data to help boost milk production.

In an interview with last year, Prof Willie Donnelly from TSSG and president at WIT, summed up the potential opportunity for Ireland: “Globally, agriculture and food security are the biggest challenges for society. One of the problems we have is that the amount of land available for food production is decreasing because of overpopulation.

“So, the real opportunity is for countries like Ireland who can produce safe food. Ireland is in a unique position because we are one of the leaders in ICT and we have all the big players here like IBM, Google, Amazon and Cisco. But, on the other side, our main indigenous industry is agriculture so, if you combine the two, you really get a unique environment.”

While research groups like Tyndall, TSSG and others spearhead the potential, the reality on the ground needs to be in close proximity to technological breakthroughs. For that to happen, we need farmers to think like start-ups, as shown by the examples of Garvey and Austin.

The reality is that the days of farmers existing solely from their land and stock are long gone, and many subsidise their livings by holding down full-time or part-time jobs, or through the latest trend of diversification: coming up with new food products or supporting tourism activities.

But, if you add a technological dimension to help farmers devise a strong independent future for themselves, a lot could change. It would also place Ireland in pole position to be a global food producer at a time when food shortages threaten the world.

To read the article in full, please visit the Silicon Republic website.

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