Tánaiste calls on agritech pioneers to enter the Innovation Arena

31 Mar 2021

James Maloney from Enterprise Ireland (centre) pictured with Mike and Jarlath Malone from Malone Farm Machinery. Image: Michael McLaughlin

This year’s Innovation Arena Awards will take place online once again, but organisers don’t expect any less from entrants to the annual agritech showcase.

The 90th annual National Ploughing Championships will take place in September in Co Laois. Often labelled as one of the largest outdoor events in Europe, last year’s contest and exhibition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the last decade, the annual National Ploughing Championships has included the Innovation Arena, which showcases innovations in agriculture using science, technology and engineering. Even Covid-19 couldn’t stop this showcase in 2020, when it pivoted to an online event.

This year’s Innovation Arena Awards will once again take place virtually. Innovators and entrepreneurs from the agriculture sector are invited to enter the competition, which is coordinated by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with the National Ploughing Association (NPA).

“Despite the many challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the quality of the entries to last year’s virtual Innovation Arena Awards showed that innovative and entrepreneurial activity is unabated in towns and villages all over Ireland,” said Mark Christal, who leads regional entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.

“Every year, the awards showcase Ireland’s valuable contribution to farming and technology on a global level. Our world-leading education and research through an established network of universities and research centres allows us to prioritise the development of new agri-innovations to address climate change and sustainability in farming practices. Irish companies are playing their part in enhancing agricultural efficiency while helping to protect the environment for years to come.”

Winning agritech innovations

In September, Innovation Arena Awards will be presented across 12 categories.

Last year saw NovaUCD start-up Iamus Technologies take the Best Start-up Award for its autonomous robot designed for the poultry industry. The Gallus robotic system gathers data on chickens and provides feedback farmers can use to drive efficiencies.

Both the Agricultural Engineering Start-Up Award and Best Newcomer Award went to Galway’s StrongBó Agritech, which has developed a fully automated performance and health monitoring system for livestock.

The future-proofing Sustainable Agriculture Award went to Meath company Hexafly, a biotech business innovating in insect farming. Hexafly uses vertical farming methods to convert waste from black soldier flies into sustainable protein for animal and plant feed.

Kildare software company Equine MediRecord took home the Farm Software Award for its platform to help horse owners and trainers to keep track of medical records.

The Innovation Arena Awards also recognise companies in micro-engineering, on-farm innovation and agricultural engineering. The winner of this last award in 2020, Malone Farm Machinery, was also named last year’s overall Innovation Arena Award winner.

This year’s overall winner and Best Start-up awardee both stand to win up €5,000 each.

‘Technology and innovation is shaping modern farming for the next generation’

“This is a great opportunity for any Irish company with a bright idea in the agriculture or food production space,” said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD, officially opening the call for entries.

“New technology and innovation is shaping modern farming for the next generation making it more productive, safer and more sustainable.”

This year’s competition welcomes entries from pioneering agri-related products and services across a variety of areas including dairy and dry-stock farming, horticulture, animal health and genetics, water and waste management, animal and farm management, and farm safety.

Entries can be submitted via the Enterprise Ireland website. The closing date for entries is Wednesday, 30 June 2021.

“Throughout the past year, due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, innovation in business has never been more important and thoroughly vital, as companies have had to adapt quickly to an ever-changing and unknown economic climate and marketplace,” said NPA managing director Anna May McHugh.

“As a result, this year’s Innovation Arena awards are particularly significant. With such a great prize fund on offer I would strongly encourage Irish agriculture companies to enter, as previous winners have gone on to have major success in business both in Ireland and internationally.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.