Belfast Telegraph

How agri-tech is helping farmers bring the sector to a whole new futuristic level

We look at some of the agri-technology which will be on display at the Balmoral Show, a bid to improve the image of the potato and the latest fruit of Aussie vines

By Rachel Martin

Balmoral Show - the annual celebration of farming in Northern Ireland - takes place this week. While it showcases the traditions of farming life, from tractors to cattle, it also celebrates the new wave of agri-technology firms who are bringing the sector into a new era.

There's no doubt farming has changed beyond recognition. It's possible that driverless tractors could be in the UK fields before driverless cars are on the road. In fact, innovative tractors which drive by themselves are already being tested out by John Deere.

But the farmyards of Northern Ireland aren't far behind. At the forefront of the industry's future is a wave of innovative firms working with farmers to solve problems and make efficiencies.

Innovative farm technology is not a new thing in Northern Ireland. Hillsborough man Harry Ferguson revolutionised the machinery industry in the 1940s with the 'wee grey Fergie' tractor.

Now an industry thought to be worth almost £300bn globally, the area has already been highlighted by the UK government for its growth potential.

The UK agri-tech sector has received over £160m of government funding over the past three years, and many firms have benefited.

FarmWizard has already helped revolutionised the industry. As one of the more established digital farm technology brands, the software company allows farmers to collate all the data about their herd. Everything from veterinary records to fertility can be recorded and accessed in one place.

The Co Armagh firm was one of the first to allow farmers to check and update their farm records from their mobile phone, minimising the time spent filling out on-farm paperwork required by government departments.

Founder Terry Canning said: "When I started Farm Wizard there wasn't a lot of interest in agri-tech but I think things have really changed. There has been a lot of investment in the area recently and it's becoming really important in farming.

"When a calf is born, a farmer could face recording the event seven times: on a piece of paper, in his movement book, online with APHIS, on his milking parlour system, as an update of his heat detection system and milk records, and even with his pedigree society.

"We save farmers on average around an hour a day - on bigger farms it can be even more. We act as a hub for all the information on the farm and consolidate with other technology."

FarmWizard's latest project will use temperature boluses to monitor the health of beef cattle.

The cutting-edge software will analyse the animal's temperature every half hour and will alert the farmer if it is elevated above a certain point for a set time period.

The technology will allow farmers to treat animals at the first signs of sickness and is still currently in the development stage.

But agri-technology doesn't have to be just software.

Omagh firm Bluefrog has developed a dust-free and sterile wood shaving for bedding. Its biggest market is the equestrian industry though other farmers also use the product.

Randalstown firm Emerald Isle Recycle operates across the whole of the island. The company specialises in plastics and turns agricultural and commercial plastic waste into products which it sells to farmers and councils.

Its range of products includes sheep and calf feeding pens, benches and portable livestock shelters - all made from recycled plastic.

But Emerald Isle Recycle is not just limited to the agricultural market and also makes bins, bin liners, garden furniture, rubbish bags and carrier bags.

The company offers a closed loop service from the first supply of plastic products, to the collection of waste plastic for recycling.

Based just across the border, Dublin firm Moocall has made its mark on the whole island.

The product solves most farmers' worst fears - missing the opportunity to assist with a difficult calving and losing a newborn calf.

The product takes the form of a band attached to the cow's tail which is activated by tail movement caused by the cow's contractions as she prepares to go into labour.

The non-invasive tail-mounted sensor gathers over 600 pieces of data a second.

It can accurately predict when a cow is most likely to give birth by measuring tail movement patterns.

When the movement reaches a certain level of intensity it will send a text alert directly to the farmer's mobile phone - usually around an hour before the calf is born.

The Balmoral Show at Balmoral Park, Lisburn, begins tomorrow and continues until Friday

Belfast Telegraph