Farmer writes: Smart farming and the internet-of-things
Kieran Sullivan jumped at the chance to go to Brussels and take part in a workshop on how the Internet-of-things can help smart farming.

Whether we like it or not, the internet is now part of our everyday lives. We socialise on it, read our newspapers on it, and order our food on it – to name but a few uses. Farming is no different and while we can’t grow food in it, the connected world of the internet is becoming a useful tool in the farmyard.

In its broadest sense for us farmers, so-called “smart farming” means gathering data via sensors connected to the internet and analysing it to make more informed decisions on various aspects of our work. This could be, for example, how much feed to offer an underperforming animal. Another example is the MooCall sensor, which attaches to a pregnant cow’s tail and sends a text to your phone when it senses the cow’s tail moving into its horizontal calving position.

Last week, I attended a workshop in Brussels that looked at how different actors along the food production chain could benefit from the internet-of-things. The European Commission is making funding available for research on large-scale data pilot programmes involving the internet-of-things, and farming is one of the sectors being targeted.

The internet-of-things is an umbrella term for scenarios where ordinary objects such as fridges, cars, and even cows are connected to the internet, to allow easier and more efficient management.

Work already taking place

The first thing that struck me at the workshop was the broad range of data-driven smart farming that is already going on around Europe.

A Dutch potato farmer presented his system, which monitors the soil on his farm as well as the produce it gives him. This allowed him to target which sections required more irrigation, fertiliser, etc.

He also incorporated the effect the weather has on production and used this to decide whether or not to harvest some of his crop ahead of schedule.

A big part of his enterprise involved showing his business customers what produce he had for sale. This was also done online and was connected to his own production cycle.

Work with dairy farmers in Spain also featured at the workshop, where one of the top priorities was the ease of use of the smartphone app farmers used.

A representative from John Deere spoke about how the reduction in available human labour was driving them to build more functionality into their machines. All the extra mini-screens in the cab, someone remarked, means we won’t be able to see out the right-hand window of our tractors soon!

Benefits of smart technology

For my part, I spoke about the need for farmers to feel the benefits of smart technology offerings. Often, we’re the last ones considered when a new technology is being developed.

There was also mention of opportunities for technology to help farmers with compliance issues. Could smart monitoring, for example, help farmers show the Department that they are in compliance with the nitrates directive?

And so the discussion continued. The internet is here to stay and it offers farmers much potential to better manage their costs and their produce.

Now, we just need to start talking about broadband coverage in rural areas – perhaps this is something to bring up when politicians start knocking on our doors looking for votes in the coming weeks.

Kieran Sullivan and his brother farm part-time in Co Waterford. You can follow him on Twitter @kieran_sullivan

Agricultural businesses in the running for €40,000 enterprise awards prize fund
The National Enterprise Awards celebrate Ireland’s small businesses with specific awards included, focusing on start-ups, innovation and exports.

Agricultural businesses are in the running for the investment prize fund of €40,000 at the National Enterprise Awards Finals on 29 May. The awards, an initiative of the Local Enterprise Offices, celebrate Ireland’s small businesses from all across the country with specific awards focusing on start-ups, innovation and exports.

Last year’s winners Terra NutriTech are an AgTech company, backed by Local Enterprise Office Kildare. Established by brothers Padraig and Tom Hennessy, their company specialises in precision liquid supplementation for livestock.

Brothers Tom and Padraig Hennessy of Terra NutriTech who announced a €2m investment, expansion into six countries in 2019 and plans to double their workforce by 2021. \ Jeff Harvey

Since winning in 2018, Terra NutriTech have become a client company of Enterprise Ireland, adding a further seven staff and hope to double their workforce by 2021 following a recent €2m investment.

“It is much more than just awards. The businesses involved avail of mentoring and guidance as the process develops and generate connections and leads from other businesses along the way.

"They also receive signposting for their business helping them to move their company forward, irrespective of whether they win an award,” Breda Fox, chair of the National Enterprise Awards Committee with the Local Enterprise Offices, said.

“Those who do take part always see the benefit. Our winners are now employing over 830 people and are exporting across the world with annual revenues in excess of €130m.”


Agricultural finalists:

  • Clonmel Covers, Tipperary: manufacturing windbreakers for farm buildings, as well as waterproof covers for trucks, boats and machine covers.
  • NeighbourFood, Cork city: an online platform that facilitates the sale of local products direct from producers to consumers by means of a weekly collection point. With 13 locations currently across the UK and Ireland, NeighbourFood hopes to have nationwide collection points by the end of 2019.
  • VirtualVet, Waterford: an international data management company that tracks drug usage in animals in the food chain. VirtualVet and agricultural food partners work together to change drug use behaviour in the food chain.
  • Class Grass Limited T/A The Field, Roscommon: supplies a range of hand-crafted model toy field products to Irish, UK, European and US markets.
  • Read more

    Terra NutriTECH announces €2m investment in R&D

    EU adopts new rules on fertiliser quality and safety
    The new fertiliser rules will cover all types of fertiliser in the EU and will set limits on contaminants such as cadmium.

    The EU has adopted new rules for fertiliser products placed on the European market aimed at ensuring their quality and safety.

    The regulation harmonises the requirements for fertilisers produced from phosphate minerals and from organic or secondary raw materials. It sets limits for contaminants in fertiliser such as cadmium and outlines labelling requirements.

    Cadmium and other fertiliser contaminants can potentially pose a risk to human, animal and plant health as well as the environment.


    Nearly half of the fertilisers on the EU market are not covered by the existing legislation, the 2003 Fertilisers Regulation. Existing rules cover mainly conventional fertilisers, typically extracted from mines or produced chemically while the new regulation will cover all types of fertiliser.

    The Romanian Minister of Economy Niculae Badalau, who oversaw the passing of the regulation, said: “These new rules will ensure that only fertilisers that meet high quality and safety EU-wide requirements and standards can be sold freely across the EU.”

    Fertilisers which fulfil the new requirements will bear the "CE" marking and benefit from free circulation in the internal market of the EU. Fertilisers that do not bear the CE marking will still have the possibility of placing them on their national market.

    The limits for cadmium content in CE-marked phosphate fertilisers will be 60mg/kg.

    Organic fertilisers

    The regulation should prove a boost to the production and use of phosphate fertilisers with low cadmium content and of organic fertilisers. Minister Badalau said it would provide a greater choice to farmers oriented towards more environmental-friendly agriculture.

    The regulations will now be signed and published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Following its publication it will enter into force after 20 days and start applying from three years after that.

    Read more

    EU to promote bone meal and sludge as fertiliser

    New EU fertiliser regulations now in place

    Farmer airlifted to hospital following cow attack
    The farmer is in hospital following the attack but his condition is not life threatening.

    A Cavan man in his 60s was airlifted to hospital following an attack by a cow on a farm in Bailieboro, Co Cavan.

    The incident occurred at midday on Tuesday 21 May and the man received “serious injuries”, according to Gardaí.

    He is currently in Tallaght University Hospital but his injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

    Gardaí and HSA are also investigating the death of a farmer involving a tractor which occurred in Fermoy last week.