Posted Sep 2017
Yet another year has come around and conversations are starting with “Are you going to the Ploughing?” The annual pilgrimage to the largest outdoor agricultural event in Europe is an opportune time to take stock of how Irish agriculture business has progressed and performed over the last 12 months. Many will look at the improvement in the dairy sector as the post quota era beds in and milk prices show a substantial increase. At the other end of the Agri sector, the difficulties for the tillage sector and the ongoing poor prices for beef and sheep are neatly book ended by the shambles that is Brexit and it’s potential devastating consequences for large sections of Irish agricultural.
However trying to find a positive note on which to review the last 12 months one need only look at the AgTech sector. The last 12 months have seen an explosive growth. Investment by Alltech in 10 start ups based out of Dog Patch Labs, it’s purchase of Keenan’s, the recent Yield Lab incubator investment based out of Galway and the €40 million investment strongly backed by the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) are all indicative of the tremendous growth and potential in AgTech in Ireland. In addition, the ongoing growth of Moocall and Dairy Master prove the point that innovative and farmer focused AgTech Irish businesses will thrive and prosper.
The National Ploughing Championships Innovation Arena Awards, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Farmers Journal will showcase and promote a number of AgTech development amongst the 60 or more exhibitors.
There is a greater awareness that Ireland, with its wide ranging tech industry, allied with a tech start up culture together with a farming sector, that embraces innovation, provides perfect lab conditions for the development of AgTech here.
This growth has lead Irish farmers to have a greater awareness and appreciation of Ag Data and the central role it will play in the development of Ag tech. The work done by Teagasc, the EBI index created by ICBF, Bord Bia’s Origen Green project to track carbon output, Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal Identification and Movement System (AIM) are all built off the back of data generated by the farmer.
There is also a greater awareness of the huge amount of Ag data currently available but not utilised. AgTech conferences promoted by the Irish Farmers Journal together with strong it’s editorials on farmers’ data show that this area is not just the remit of techies. Indeed I was delighted to have been asked to speak before IFA’s North Tipperary’s monthly meeting on the topic of “Who owns farmer’s data”. I was very impressed by the awareness farmers had of this as an issue and their keenness to find out how they could benefit from and protect their data.
In order to ensure that farmers get the best benefit out of their data – described as “The New Black Gold” by the Economist – AgTech companies and other entities using farmers’ data need to simplify the terms and conditions on which they operate. There can be no ambiguity as to who owns, utilises and benefits from Ag data.
Minimum terms on the use of Ag data need to be agreed and implemented on a European wide basis. The Ag Data Transparent certification scheme in America provided a useful template to help provide clarity in this area. Copa and Cogeca have put some considerable thought into this and clearly understand the importance of the farmer maintaining control over his or her data. Further work needs to be done in implementing these protocols in the EU.
The farmers’ right to their Ag data also needs to be protected in the event of a company going into liquidation or being sold. The upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will also have an impact on how the personal data of farmers is used and utilised by third parties.
Consideration should now be given by the farming community to centralising their data through an Irish farmers’ data co-op. Representing not 1 or 10 or 100 but thousands of farmers and their aggregated Ag data, such as a structure will provide the economies of scale that Irish farmers will need to leverage their Ag data whether in the Agri Business or Ag tech sector.
Aggregated data of thousands of farmers can also provide the perfect laboratory conditions for start up companies to try out and ensure the “Next Big Thing” actually works.
The aggregated data of 5,000 dairy farmers will provide insights and analysis that will drive efficiency and innovation in the dairy sector.
Similar innovation and change can be implemented in the beef sector building on the ICBF data.
Farmers can and should look to get a return on their Ag data and be paid for same. In addition, the aggregated data will provide opportunities for efficiencies across Irish agriculture and farming.
By this time next year AgTech, in all its guises, will be very much a positive good news story for Irish agriculture as it begins to obtain critical mass across the board. People become even more aware of its possibilities and put in place structures to tap into and implement this. Farmers should ensure they are not left behind in this Ag tech revolution.
In case you are asking – I am indeed going to the Ploughing – wouldn’t miss it. Looking forward to seeing you there.
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Yet another year has come around and conversations are starting with “Are you going to the Ploughing?” The annual pilgrimage to the largest outdoor agricultural event in Europe is an opportune time to take stock of how Irish agriculture business has progressed and performed over the last 12 months. Many will look at the improvementRead More