Why Munster is ‘an ideal testbed’ for agritech ideas

19 Sep 2022

Image: © Budimir Jevtic/Stock.adobe.com

AgriTech Ireland is one of 14 regional clusters supported by Enterprise Ireland, and aims to capitalise on Munster’s knowledge in the agriculture space.

The Regional Technology Clustering Fund was launched three years ago by Enterprise Ireland to boost engagement between businesses and local knowledge providers such as institutes of technology and technological universities.

It now supports 14 clusters around the country, spanning a range of industries including cybersecurity, connected health and industry 4.0.

One of these clusters is AgriTech Ireland at Munster Technological University (MTU) in Kerry, which aims to accelerate the growth of Ireland’s agritech companies.

Ahead of this year’s National Ploughing Championships, SiliconRepublic.com spoke to Kieran O’Donoghue, educational outreach manager for the agritech cluster, to find out more about the work it does.

O’Donoghue comes from a farming background, with a degree in electronics and master’s in project management. He has worked in engineering environments within the manufacturing industry, with more than 20 years’ experience in a variety of engineering and management roles.

“The AgriTech Ireland cluster is working with agritech companies across Ireland, listening to their needs and developing service offerings to meet these needs and making connections to unlock new opportunities,” he explained.

“Companies in the cluster range from those who design and manufacture farm machinery and equipment, to those who are developing software and sensor solutions, to those who are developing best-in-class genetics.”

The aim of the Regional Technology Clustering Fund is to build, scale and expand the reach of Irish SMEs by developing sectoral clusters in regions across the country. The location of each cluster is considered in relation to the knowledge of the region and the strength of the ecosystem as a whole.

In the case of the AgriTech Ireland, O’Donoghue said Munster is a particularly strong region for this industry due to the diverse range of agriculture in the area, covering all types of farming.

“From small to large holdings on challenging terrain, [it’s] an ideal testbed to put new technology offerings through their paces,” he said.

“Agri-related programme offerings by MTU are strong, with growing numbers on programmes like sustainable agriculture.”

Currently, there are two active programmes taking place at the cluster. The first is a business process optimiser, which aims to deliver process improvements by integrating digital technology solutions using lean management techniques.

The second programme is the AgriTeam Innovator, a collaborative workshop-based programme that aims to support innovation and ideas for projects with a focus on product development and process digitalisation.

According to O’Donoghue, this programme also aims to convert ideas “into a validated, written project proposal that can be used for funding applications or internal project management”.

Agritech trends

O’Donoghue said the increasing global population means there is a need for more food, while rising temperatures mean there is a need to reduce the impact of agricultural practice on the environment.

“Technology solutions have an ever-increasing role to play in solving these challenges,” he added.

Technology is becoming more prominent in agricultural environments and Irish agritech start-ups have been capitalising on this growth.

Most recently, Irish agricultural biotech start-up Viridian Seeds was one of six start-ups chosen for the Illumina Accelerator.

UCD spin-out ProvEye was recently awarded €225,000 in funding from the European Space Agency to develop a grassland management platform. And earlier this year, CropBiome raised €1.3m to expand its team and invest in its products for farmers, while Northern Ireland’s CropSafe raised $3m in seed funding for its farm management platform.

AgriTech Ireland is now hoping to maximise the opportunities for Ireland’s agritech sector by bringing together industry, knowledge providers, community and Government to develop and work together on projects that reach common goals and address the current trends.

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic