Anuland aims to improve environmental and financial sustainability on the farm

16 Dec 2019644 Views

David McDonnell, the founder and director of Anuland. Image: Anuland

Our Start-up of the Week is Anuland, a Limerick-based agritech company developing precision agriculture solutions and digitising farm work.

Limerick’s Anuland has developed a combination of hardware and software, combining IoT (quite literally) in the field with AI in the cloud to improve farm sustainability in environmental, financial and social terms.

We spoke to the company’s founder and director, David McDonnell, about his aim to help farmers gain more control over their farming businesses through the development and adoption of new technology.

In Ireland, land for food production is limited and needs more specific management to remain both sustainable and profitable for farmers. McDonnell, a farmer himself, recognised that existing grass growth measurement tools are time consuming and based on estimations – and that there may be a tech solution that could help.

McDonnell’s background and experience

“Farmers need accurate data to solve complex problems and maximise grass yield. We have developed Anuland FieldSense, a new systemised approach to grass management that helps farmers reduce costs and achieve optimum grass cover,” McDonnell told Siliconrepublic.com.

Ultimately, this gives farmers more precision and control on their farming practices, he said, and the system is initially targeting medium to large Irish dairy farmers. “They know that farms growing more grass have lower costs and higher profits, but time and labour constraints means that only a small percentage are currently measuring grass.

“Our product is for farmers looking to increase farm efficiencies and compliance, sustainably.”

A bearded man with brown hair wearing a navy fleece and blue jeans with wellies sits on a green plastic charge in a large field full of grass.

David McDonnell. Image: Anuland

Prior to launching Anuland earlier this year, McDonnell worked on the family farm with his father, Michael, and his brother, Richard. “A little over 20 years ago, I diversified into complementary farm activities, developing a number of renewable energy projects, notably the first farm-scale anaerobic digestion plant in Ireland, along with numerous windfarms.

“I hold a green cert in agriculture from Salesian Agricultural College in Pallaskenry, a degree in psychology and a masters in business administration from University of Limerick. I’m also a member of the Irish Wind Energy Association, the Irish Bio-Energy Association and Cré – the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland.”

FieldSense

The Anuland founder went on to describe how the FieldSense device works. “It’s a system for automatically measuring grass growth on a dairy farm. The system has three main constituents; a monitoring station that is placed on the farm; cloud analytics to process the farm data; and an app that the farmer interacts with to view and share data with the system.”

The monitoring station is placed in the farmer’s average field and contains a number of sensors, above and below the ground. “These sensors are wired back to this station where the data is collated and transferred to the cloud. We use the mobile network to transfer data to the cloud. This is the IoT component.”

‘The farm needs to be environmentally sustainable in a way that allows it to support the family that lives on it’
– DAVID MCDONNELL

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FieldSense utilises the AWS IoT system to ensure that the data is transferred securely. McDonnell added that “security and integrity of the data from source is vital”.

Once the data is on AWS, Anuland performs the necessary analytics with its bespoke AI algorithms, that can return a volume and growth rate for grass from the images and sensor data.

“We have developed a fertiliser spreading algorithm that utilises the sensor data, weather data and farm management practices to provide farmers with the optimum times to spread fertiliser to reduce leaching and allow optimum uptake by grass.” Meanwhile, the app acts as the farmer’s portal to this system.

‘The challenge is not to convince farmers to get digital’

McDonnell wants to help farmers produce food sustainably, allowing farming to continue for future generations. “Sustainability is not just about being environmentally sustainable – which is extremely important – it must also be about financial sustainability.

“The farm needs to be environmentally sustainable in a way that allows it to support the family that lives on it. This in turn will help to maintain rural communities and hopefully allow them to grow, providing much needed social sustainability.”

While the product was launched at this year’s National Ploughing Championships, McDonnell plans to take it beyond Ireland.

“We aim to do this in as many countries as we can, with this first product and others that we intend to develop. There are different types of agriculture and different environmental problems in other countries, but farmers are the same and face similar issues when it comes to maintaining a sustainable environment and a sustainable business.

“Agriculture is seen as a conservative industry, built on tradition and slow to change or adapt to new technology. Having grown up farming in rural Ireland, we know that is not the case at all.

“Farmers are highly innovative and are always open to new technology. For us, the challenge is not to convince farmers to get digital –they already are. Our challenge is to show them that we understand farming and that our products are built to solve farmer problems, not just to land more technology onto them for the sake of it.”

McDonnell said that Anuland has been tackling this challenge by engaging with farmers from the very first iteration of the idea, right through to development and into testing. He added that working in agritech can be “slow and steady” when compared to the pace of other tech companies, but he is confident that there will be interest in this kind of innovation.

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Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com