Forward thinking: Innovation is nothing new for farmers

Covid-19 pandemic brought with it an increased need for new ideas — but people in rural Ireland have already been innovating for hundreds of years
Forward thinking: Innovation is nothing new for farmers

Social entrepreneur Alma Jordan, founder of AgriKids, and her son Eamon (8) on their farm in Julianstown, Co Meath. Picture: Julien Behal Photography 

Making changes that introduce new methods in something that is already established is the generally accepted definition of innovation.

Farmers and other rural people in Ireland know all about it because they have been innovators ever since they began to cultivate the soil in the Céide Fields on the coast of Mayo some 5,000 years ago.

Over the centuries, they have moved from primitive Iron Age tools for working the land to Space Age farm machinery guided by satellites.

Inventive minds have helped to keep rural lifestyles and traditions going and they were not always confined to farmers.

Tar barrels were regularly put at the end of houses to collect rainwater from roofs for non-drinking use. Leaking kitchen utensils were repaired with pot menders. And discarded tractor tyres were often converted into containers for garden flowers.

Even the cinders from the fire were used to make a pathway from the back doors of some houses to washing lines in the haggard. Cardboard was adapted for insoles on shoes. Faded coats were turned for further wear. And ribs from worn umbrellas were occasionally used as knitting needles.

Sam Kelly (7) from Baltinglas Co Wicklow enjoys hand crafted toys by 'Little Crew' who were among the entrepreneurs  in the Local Enterprise Village at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow in 2019. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Sam Kelly (7) from Baltinglas Co Wicklow enjoys hand crafted toys by 'Little Crew' who were among the entrepreneurs  in the Local Enterprise Village at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow in 2019. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke

White flour bags were washed and sown together to make bed sheets and were also turned into pillowcases and stuffed with soft feathers from turkeys and chickens. Egg shells were even placed around garden flower beds to keep slugs and snails away.

A tea chest acquired from a friendly shopkeeper was sometimes turned into a play pen with a rubber tyre from an old bicycle tacked on to the rim to protect small children from the rough edges. Timber butter boxes were also turned upside down, upholstered and used as kitchen seats.

Mothers were also known to convert a horse’s collar into a safe and comfortable cradle for their infant by merely placing a blanket over it. Innovation was an inherent feature of daily life.

Children’s toys were also often homemade. Sometimes these were just a few pieces of timber nailed together, with wheels from an old bicycle or pram attached to provide mobility.

That inherited ability to create and develop ideas, aided by new technologies, advanced skills and a growth in education including science helped the Irish to gain global recognition for their innovative contribution to advances in agri-business and other sectors.

Ploughing Championships

Founded over 90 years ago, the National Ploughing Association has always provided a platform for the machinery trade to highlight and demonstrate the latest innovations, which always generate a lot of public interest and discussion.

During the past 10 years it has also teamed up with Enterprise Ireland to provide a showcase for agri-related products and services through an annual awards competition that attracted entries from all over the country.

The competition is one of the most popular events for exhibitors and visitors at the ploughing championships every September. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic the competition was held remotely in 2020, as it will be again this year, following the cancellation of the event’s celebrated trade exhibition.

Innovators and entrepreneurs in the agri-sector have again been invited to enter their innovative products and services for this year’s competition with June 30 as the closing date.

Online judging of the shortlisted entries will be held during July 19-23 and the awards ceremony will take place remotely on September 15, which otherwise would have been the opening day of the cancelled festival.

The competition includes 12 categories for start-up and established companies, young innovators, farm safety. sustainable agriculture and other sections. The best start-up and overall winner will be eligible to win up to €5,000 each.

Mike and Jarlath Malone, Malone Farm Machinery, Ballyglass, Claremorris, Co Mayo, overall award winners at the Innovation Arena Awards 2020. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Mike and Jarlath Malone, Malone Farm Machinery, Ballyglass, Claremorris, Co Mayo, overall award winners at the Innovation Arena Awards 2020. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Last year’s competition had over 60 entries. The overall award went to Malone Farm Machinery from Ballyhaunis in Mayo with a 16-bale trailer, which accurately controls the even distribution and precise application rates of fertiliser.

The best overall start-up award went to Iamus Technologies, a Dublin based artificial intelligence and robotics company that has developed poultry specific robotic technology that empowers poultry farmers to make better and safer production decisions.

Minister of State Damien English, who presented the awards last year, said a vast range of innovative concepts and ideas being brought to fruition by entrepreneurs and farm experts from all around the country.

Ireland is leading the way with technology solutions that improve efficiencies through greater automation. This puts it in a great position to take advantage of the significant overseas opportunities for this sector which will help to drive economic growth, he said.

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, Enterprise Ireland and the NPA are themselves innovating to deliver the 11th annual awards competition in a safe and efficient manner online again this year.

Part of the focus will be on solutions that have the potential to lower the carbon footprint in the agri-sector, helping to deliver on the aims of the Government and the European Union for a green future.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar said the competition is a great opportunity for any Irish company with a bright idea in the agriculture or food production space.


“New technology and innovation is shaping modern farming for the next generation, making it more productive, safer and more sustainable,” he said.

Mark Christal, Regions and Entrepreneurship manager with Enterprise Ireland, said the awards showcase Ireland’s valuable contribution to farming and technology globally.

“Irish companies are playing their part in enhancing agricultural efficiency while helping to protect the environment for years to come.

“We look forward to seeing some of that work highlighted at this year’s online Innovation Arena Awards,” he said.

NPA managing director, Anna May McHugh, said innovation has been at the heart of the National Ploughing Championships since it was founded in 1931.

Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, innovation in business has never been more important and vital, she said, noting that companies have had to adapt quickly to an ever-changing and unknown economic climate and marketplace.

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