Award Winning Fresh Graze Fence Operated by Robots

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Pictured on the FreshGraze stand at the NPA Innovation Arena at Ploughing 18 where they were announced as Ag-tech Startup winner and overall winner of the Alfie Cox perpetual for the best start-up innovation. This prize is worth €15,000. In the photo are Damien Dempsey, UCD Ag Sc. & Food Dept. Maura Canning, Galway IFA  along with Charlie & James Drumm young farmer entrepreneurs.Photos by Fergal O'Gorman.

The FreshGraze Story-What Sparked the Innovation

FreshGraze awards at the NPA Innovation arena during #Ploughing18 included the Alfred Cox Founder’s Cup Perpetual Trophy, (overall winner of the best start-up innovation) and the Agri-Technology Start-Up

The two Drumm boys (James 18 and Charlie 17) were putting up an electric fence for strip grazing in the rain, coming in wet and late for football training. They both play with the local Downs GAA club (Mullingar, Co. Westmeath) which has progressed to the County final. They asked their parents Thomas and Laura would it be possible to have a moving fence.

Both young lads are very IT literate and knew there could be an internet solution to make the boring but essential chore of moving the fence easier for busy and hard working livestock farmers. Many dairy farmers have expanded milk production post milk quotas so they have bigger herds. However, they are seriously short of labour so their time is critical.

Their father Thomas was a dairy farmer of over 30 years and supplied Lakeland Dairies with both winter and spring milk. He won scholarships (Stephen Cullinane and Farmers Journal) so he had the opportunity to study farming in Holland and New Zealand. His wife Laura is a veterinarian (equine and livestock) so she has a keen interest in animal welfare.

Laura and Thomas encouraged both lads to check out the IT possibilities and the result is that the family now has patented Freshgrazing a  cyber-physical device which will revolutionize grassland  production, milk yields and liveweight gain.

Their concept is Fresh Grazing- their prototype introduces Fresh Graze, an automated moving fence system using two robots to allocate fresh grass to livestock on a continual basis at a rate that ensures the entire sward is consumed before the fence moves again.

Their invention has been entered for an award and will be shown on their stand in the Innovation Arena* at the National Ploughing Championship. They have created a simple, reliable and robust system and a powerful tool for managing grassland. Thomas believes that the payback for a dairy farmer could be within 18 months or two years of purchase.

After a suitable trial period and feedback from early customers their prototype should be ready for a market launch within two years to customers in Ireland, EU and worldwide. The family have been working on this project for over three years.

They are happy to acknowledge the great assistance and encouragement they have received from Enterprise Ireland, Athlone and Tralee Institutions of Technology, Teagasc etc. The TEG group in Mullingar were a very big help. The family also worked with various talented individuals from all over the world and outsourced work to people around the world. I.e. They put project problems on the internet and got people to solve them.

Thomas retired from dairy farming in 2014 when he was milking 80 cows and has been a part-time suckler farmer and working full time on the FreshGraze project since then. He says “we are part of the 4th industrial revolution that can use digital, Internet of Things (IOT) and mechatronics to have an impact on soil, plant, animal, farmer, processor and consumer for the good of society”.

Benefits of the Fresh Graze System

  • It saves a busy dairy farmer** a lot of time moving fences and ensures that it is done at the right time as the software knows the stocking rate and grass availability.
  • It prevents selective grazing and allows for more research into mixed species swards.
  • These swards improve biodiversity, soil fertility, animal and plant health and deliver a more wholesome product for the consumer
  • The cows don’t walk or contaminate the grass they are about pasture utilisation is much better.
  • Freshgrazing provides flexibility and eases grassland management leaving decisions easy to implement, improving grass production and utilisation
  • It leaves a digital footprint for farm to fork traceability while effective utilisation of mixed species and clover swards promote sustainable agriculture production.
  • Data from the milking parlour and grass measuring devices can be integrated with the Fresh Graze software to optimise milk production and liveweight gain.

Editor’s Note

*The National Ploughing Association (NPA), organisers of the annual National Ploughing Championships, have teamed up with the Irish Farmers Journal and Enterprise Ireland to recognise and reward outstanding innovation in the agricultural sector in the NPA Innovation Arena.

According to a Teagasc report some 6,000 new entrants will be required by the dairy industry in the next 10 years. As dairy farmers prepared for milk production post-quota, cow numbers have increased by 327,000 since 2010 to over 1.35million.

James Drum has a keen interest in agriculture having studied it at Leaving Cert level. He is now a first year Engineering student at UCD. He is an Astra scholar and has also been awarded a Naughton scholarship. James is the 2017 Irish national tetrathlon under 21 champion. (Running, swimming, riding and target shooting). He represented Ireland at the International Championships in America this summer and they won the team competition

Charlie Drumm is a 5th year student in Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar. He took the opportunity during transition year to do work experience with the Technical Engineering Group (TEG),  Robotics and Drive, Athlone IT (COMAND) and Tralee IT (IMaR) where he gained valuable hands on engineering and software experience. He is studying Computer Science for the Leaving Cert and did Technology and Tech Graphics for his Junior Cert.

More Family Background

Charlie also was on the school running team but his main interest is in Gaelic football. He was named by the Westmeath examiner as Man of the Match when on the Colaiste Mhuire all Ireland under 16 winning team in 2018. This was the first time the school had ever won this title. He also plays for the Westmeath minor football team.

Charlie is also a keen horseman and represented Ireland on teams at the tetrathlon in Britain. He also enjoys going to concerts and hanging around with his friends.

James says that his involvement in activities helps him to develop skills that he would not have learned in the classroom such as leadership, communication and teamwork.

Through determination and hard work, he has won three All-Ireland Schools cross country running team titles and three silver medals. He has also represented the school’s senior football team. James won Drama Student of the Year in 2016.

James has  completed a GAA coaching courses and gives  horse-riding lessons to special needs children and works  with his little  sister Anna age 12 at home who has Down-Syndrome. 

He received a Gaisce bronze medal for his work in the community and school. Both lads have also been IREUSO Olympiad contestants, and have All-Ireland medals for draughts.