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Eyes on Ireland

Irish farmer Kevin Nolan grows a variety of small grains using precision ag tools to better manage inputs and increase yields. (Progressive Farmer image by Gregg Hillyer)

Traveling through the picturesque countryside, it's no wonder that Ireland is synonymous with The Emerald Isle. The climate here fosters a sea of green that blankets the rolling hills and valleys in every direction. Beef cattle, dairy cows and sheep graze the rich grasslands that make up 80% of the country's agricultural area.


But, don't be fooled by its idyllic charm. Technology and innovation fuel the island's ag industry. Comparable in size to Indiana, Ireland's agrifood sector exports exceed $14 billion annually. Forward-looking companies cultivate partnerships with customers around the world. It's known as "The Irish Advantage."


I learned that firsthand during a visit earlier this fall, hosted by Enterprise Ireland, a government organization focused on development and growth of Irish enterprises in global markets.

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That advantage has helped to make companies like Tanco (www.itanco.com), Keenan (www.keenansystem.com) and Dairymaster (www.dairymaster.com) world leaders in the development of baling and wrapping systems, feed mixer wagons and dairy equipment, respectively. These companies and others have a long history of invention to boost farmers' productivity and efficiency, while promoting sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.


"Food is the largest sector in the Irish economy. It needs a strong agritech to survive and thrive," stresses Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland. For six years, her organization has spearheaded the Innovation Arena in partnership with the National Ploughing Association. It showcases Ireland's start-up businesses and established companies, introducing new products to agriculture. It also sponsors the Innovation Awards to recognize the best of the best in categories like Agri-Engineering Start-Up and Agri-Environmental.


Activities are held during the National Ploughing Championships, where contestants are judged on the straightness and perfection of their furrows. The Ploughing, as it's known, is a three-day outdoor show with 1,700 exhibitors displaying the latest ag tech for crops, livestock, forages and forestry. Nearly 300,000 visitors attended the Carlow County site this year, about 65 miles south of Dublin.


Brexit Blurs Future


But against this festive backdrop, the dark clouds of Brexit hang over the horizon. The United Kingdom's planned withdrawal from the European Union brings unknowns and uncertainty for Irish farmers. A Central Bank study warns up to one-third of Irish farms could be forced out of business in the event of a no-deal Brexit. According to a story in The Irish Times, the study suggests beef and sheep farms, which represent 70% of all farms, already face "significant viability challenges" as they are the least profitable and rely heavily on subsidies from Brussels.


"Risks such as a no-deal Brexit or other negative shocks have the potential to exacerbate existing challenges facing some farmers," the report says.


Kevin Nolan is closely watching events as they unfold in London and the British Parliament. The third-generation Carlow County farmer worries with a no-deal Brexit, exports could decline and, with them, grain and beef prices.


Nolan Farming is a model of modern technology. His operation's precision toolbox includes variable-rate application of fertilizer, seed and pesticides, auto-steer, nitrogen sensors, GPS-guided/controlled spray booms, telematics and more.


"I'm passionate about farming, but it's a business," says the 41-year-old, who farms nearly 1,500 acres. "I wake up every day to make money, but I lay awake at night worrying about the possible ramifications of a no-deal Brexit."

Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email gregg.hillyer@dtn.com.

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