Limerick native Marion Cantillon may not have grown up on a farm, but she is from a farming family. Her parents both grew up on farms, and growing up, she spent much of her time on her uncles’ farms in Co Kerry.
“Farming is something we always grew up with, we were always able to help out on the farm,” she explains. “I just loved the aspect of being outside and being able to help and I think outdoor work was always something I was drawn to.
“When I was in college, I probably kind of thought of it more of a chore and it wasn’t until I got into my later years of college that I looked at the sustainability side of it and actually started getting more conscious about farming practices and their impact globally.
“I did food marketing and entrepreneurship as my undergrad and I think that really sparked my interest in business,” she adds.
Marion completed her degree at University College Cork (UCC) and then went on to study a postgraduate diploma in nutritional science.
“The undergrad was when I really looked into the business side of things, it really was a great basis for understanding business enterprise and the food system,” she says.
“I guess having the farming background, I think understanding the food supply chain from farm to fork, that process was really strengthened throughout the four years during my undergrad.
“That’s why I went on to specialise in nutrition in my postgrad which I have just finished this year.”
It was during her undergrad degree that Marion found the basis of what would eventually lead her to her farming solution: Pitseal.
“We looked at sustainable packaging for food to begin with, to get rid of single use plastics we looked at replacing it with an edible film,” she explains. “I transferred the knowledge I gained from that when we had a farm accident two summers ago.”
Marion’s uncle had fallen after slipping on loose plastic from the silage pit, resulting in a broken leg and putting him on the sidelines for some time.
“That really impacted my path, applying the knowledge I learned in college to improve the safety and efficacies on the farmer’s lives,” she continues.
I think when I saw the actual heartache, they go through I wanted to see if I could implement something that could make life easier
“I always had doubts with the silage process, but I didn’t understand how gruelling it was when you have high winds, and you have to go up and fix it and fix tyres.
“I think when I saw the actual heartache, they go through I wanted to see if I could implement something that could make life easier.”
This is where Pitseal was born. A spray-on, edible covering for silage which forms a seal. Pitseal also has benefits for the animals, as the solution is seaweed-based and can cut down methane emissions when consumed.
While studying her postgrad over the past year, Marion embarked on UCC’s IGNITE programme, a 12-month business incubation programme for recent graduates.
“I went into IGNITE with just an idea and a concept of what I wanted Pitseal to be – I had no product, I had no consumer feedback (at that time).
The IGNITE programme really helped me in building a network of advisers
“But through the IGNITE programme I was able to, I suppose, specialise my postgraduate diploma which I did in nutrition and the nutrition of biofilms,” she says.
“The IGNITE programme really helped me in building a network of advisers and mentors to help me accelerate my business and also give me an initial minimum viable product so that I had something to show when I went to customer meetings.”
To get into the programme, Marion had to endure four rounds of interviews, and of the eight selected, she was the only agribusiness on the accelerator.
“The supports they built around me were actually specialised in agri, so they really do tailor the support, advice and networks for the specific business you are going into,” she says.
Marion is on track to have a commercially viable product for the 2023 season. She is currently testing her products on farms in north Kerry.
It’s applied by a spray application with a pressurised pump on the back of a trailer
“The biofilm forms a watertight and airtight matrix on top of the grass; it bonds with the top layer of grass across the pit, sealing it completely,” she explains.
“It’s applied by a spray application with a pressurised pump on the back of a trailer,” she continues. “We actually have that feature in prototype development.”
Adding to her academic portfolio, Marion begins a PhD entitled Mitigating Emissions from Livestock Systems which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production, this week.