Dave Walsha, sales manager at precision drive system supplier EMS, explores the technology that’s revolutionising Irish farming.
Agriculture is one of Ireland’s most important industries, with its 137,000 farms producing over eight billion euros in output, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Now, Irish companies are making the sector even more efficient by embracing IoT technologies to create “Agriculture 4.0”.
Agriculture is facing a series of globally-felt challenges, and Ireland is no exception. Due to exponential population growth, global agricultural systems will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than was grown in the last 500, according to Professor Chris Elliott, co-founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. As Irish farms deal with a labour shortage, farmers must deliver more output with fewer workers.
Given that the nation is steeped in agricultural history, it comes as no surprise that Ireland can now be regarded as a leader in AgriTech. The Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) is a 20 million euro fund for research into agricultural innovation, helping Irish start-ups to stay at the cutting edge of AgriTech. This is helping several Irish companies develop new technologies to make the sector more efficient, focusing on everything from drones to big data analytics.
Not only is Ireland at the forefront of technology development, but also its adoption. The Ifac Irish Farm Report 2022 reveals that over 80 per cent of Irish farmers now use some form of AgriTech to accelerate operations. In particular, Ireland’s many small, family farms are turning to technology to improve their yields and profitability.
Robotic poultry farms
Irish farms are using robots to automate some of the more repetitive, labour intensive tasks. When faced with a shortage of farm workers, many simple yet essential tasks can be undertaken by robots, ensuring farmers have more time to focus on other tasks, such as improving process efficiencies and ultimately yield.
For example, Izario is an Irish startup established in 2021. Its robot, the IzBot, undertakes many of the more manual tasks on a poultry farm such as floor egg retrieval. It also plays an important role in monitoring both bird health and the environmental conditions of their habitat.
Robots that collect animal and environmental data can be combined with machine learning to develop data-driven solutions for farmers. Artificial intelligence (AI) can provide important insights into livestock, such as the likelihood of sickness spreading among animals, allowing farm managers to optimise decision making.
Using sensory imaging technology and thermal cameras, drones can be flown over farmlands to collect data on crops and livestock. For example, many Irish farms are using drone technology to detect plant diseases, preventing any outbreaks that could be devastating to crop yield. Advances in technology are now allowing drones remain airborne for longer, even during poor weather conditions, to expand their use into more applications. Next generation drones are capable of flying autonomously without the need for an active remote-control pilot on the ground, relieving pressure on the farm’s workforce.
Irish startup ProvEye develops technology to analyse unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and satellite imagery to obtain insights into the efficiency and sustainability of the agricultural sector. The software can accurately measure factors such as crop yield, allowing farmers to ensure efficient upkeep and high production levels.
To ensure reliable performance even in the toughest conditions, AgriTech must be robust, and needs to be powered by reliable motors. Kählig Antriebstechnik (KAG) drives for agricultural technology are specifically designed for the rough areas of agriculture. These motors, supplied in the UK and Ireland by EMS, have a high degree of ingress protection so can be used outdoors and cleaned with high water pressure without causing damage.
As well as being robust, agricultural robots must demonstrate a high level of manoeuvrability to work among crops and animals without causing any damage. KAG drive electronics demonstrate good controllability with customised incremental encoders, enabling precise control of the process.
Ireland has a rich history of farming experience and expertise, and in recent decades has gained a reputation as a world leader in technology innovation. Now, these areas of expertise are combining to create a generation of Irish AgriTech that is revolutionising agriculture. When powered by robust and precise motors, robots and drones can enable new levels of productivity and efficiency in food production.