As global populations are heading towards a projected 9.7bn by 2050, there will be immense pressure on agriculture to increase output. However, equally, by 2050 numerous countries around the world aim to be at net-zero emissions. This means that how we produce food will have to be very different from today.

New, innovative technology will be a critical component in steering the global agricultural industry towards both environmental and financial sustainability, while addressing the issues of food security.

As such, the global agtech industry is big business. In 2021, the market valuefor the industry stood at approximately €10bn and is anticipated to experience rapid growth. By 2025 it could more than double its current value.

The agtech market can be broken down into several segments, including agricultural management platforms, supply chain and inventory management solutions, GPS and field mapping services, agricultural monitoring services, and robotics.

There is also a fast-developing biotech and bio-chemical sector – focused on improving plant health, animal health and welfare, and reducing methane emissions, through feed supplements, feed and slurry additives, and genetics among other things.

Each segment is poised for substantial growth. The market for agricultural robots alone is projected to expand to around €30bn by 2032.

Irish farmers are well used to technology. A recent IFA survey showed that the vast majority of farmers possess a smartphone and a laptop, with 70% of them using farming-related apps. However, the rates of adoption on farms vary considerably, with dairy and tillage farmers being more inclined to invest in technology.

Ifac study

Ifac’s fifth annual Irish farm survey found that the most significant barrier to agtech was cost (48%), with the next biggest issue at 12% being a lack of IT skills. These statistics are not surprising, given that agtech investments can range from a couple of hundred euros for software to tens of thousands for robots, the report outlines.

However, the survey demonstrated that technology is essential to overcoming the aforementioned challenges.

When respondents were asked about the top three challenges that they believe agtech could address, 59% said better management of production/growth rates, 48% said land/soil efficiencies, and 46% said better management of farm financials.

Ifac’s 2023 report also highlighted some concerns farmers have about data usage. Using big data may assist farmers in transitioning into a more efficient, sustainable future.

However, studies have indicated that farmers are only occasionally willing to share data due to concerns around perceptions that laws do not adequately protect their rights concerning data privacy and protection.

Catherine Lascurettes of Agtech Ireland.

Representatives of AgTech Ireland members exhibitors at the Moorepark Dairy Open Day 2023.

Every sector needs a voice

Given the vital role of technology in the future development of farms and its necessity for broader adoption, the Irish agtech sector was in need of a new representative organisation. The Irish Farmers Journal spoke to Catherine Lascurettes of AgTech Ireland, about the organisation’s role, accomplishments, future plans.

AgTech Ireland was established two years ago as a fully registered membership and lobbying organisation representing the agtech sector. The formation of this organisation originated from concerns that, despite having much to contribute to Ireland’s agricultural sustainability, the industry was operating in isolation and found engaging with policy deciders and researchers challenging.

Early discussions with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue in 2022 gave rise to the nomination of a senior official to be AgTech Ireland’s dedicated point of contact in DAFM. This allowed for discussions on the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) grant programme funded through the Common Agricultural Policy, and the inclusion of various agtech innovations to support farmers in improving their operations’ sustainability. Catherine elaborates that they are also striving to build relationships with the Departments of Finance, Enterprise, and Employment and other relevant Departments for the benefit of members. The group collaborates with various organisations to host events and is open for membership.

Agtech helping to meet the challenges in agriculture

With its updated MACC, Teagasc has found that reaching a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 2030, requires farmers to quickly adopt all the various measures and technologies in their plans, explains Catherine. This involves providing farmers with technical support to change their practices and ensuring affordable access to new technologies. These technologies can improve efficiency in labour, financial management, data management, fertiliser usage, and animal health. The agtech industry plays a crucial role in developing these solutions, and supporting it through financing, research collaboration and favourable regulations is essential, Catherine said.

While agtech isn’t a complete solution, it’s seen as a crucial partner in making Irish agriculture and farmers more sustainable, she concluded.