When Herdwatch, an Irish company specialising in farm management software, was set up, just 7 per cent of farmers used technology to track their operations. A decade on, that figure is more like 25 per cent, according to Fabien Peyaud, the firm’s founder and chief executive.
But Peyaud believes there is significant scope for Herdwatch, the most-used agritech platform in Ireland and Britain, to grow even further with a suite of new products. One of those is Flockwatch, a new app to help farmers manage their sheep, which will launch in 2022.
“Flockwatch is going to be big, and it shows the direction of travel for our business,” Peyaud said, adding that the new system would work in the same way as the existing Herdwatch programme.
“It’s the same concept – digitalising farming, and using technology to make farmers’ lives easier, but applied to sheep.”
Peyaud, a French native who has lived in Ireland for 25 years, founded Herdwatch in 2011 with financial support from Farm Relief Services (FRS), the agricultural co-operative he worked for at the time. The company still has backing from FRS.
In the years since, Herdwatch has been steadily growing its user base, marketing itself in new regions and adding new options to its core product, an app that allows farmers to monitor their herds and crops digitally.
The app can be downloaded to smartphones, allowing farmers to save time on paperwork by registering calves as they are tagged, and record weights and measurements.
Remedies and feed purchases can be prepared in advance of audits and farmers can also use the app to complete movement certs. It sends reminders to users when a cow is due to come into heat.
“Our vision is digitalising livestock farming,” Peyaud said. “In a nutshell, it’s about how we can get farmers on that journey from pen and paper to the digital world.”
In the early days, Peyaud, an IT expert with no farming background, encountered scepticism about the potential of his app. “People were always saying to me: ‘that’s crazy, farmers will never use this’,” he said.
“But my stance was that farmers are business people. If you give them a tool that will improve their business’s productivity, they’ll use it. Farmers didn’t know they needed Herdwatch, because there was nothing out there like it, so we created a new market. Our members told us we were saving them three hours a week in paperwork.”
Herdwatch now has a loyal customer base, 45 staff and a large headquarters in Roscrea, Co Tipperary. But the Enterprise Ireland-backed firm has designs on further growth, with plans to almost double its headcount and move into new markets around the world.
The firm is intent on expanding in Ireland too. “There’s huge scope to do more,” said Peyaud. “There are more than 100,000 farmers in this country, and in Ireland only 12,000 of them are on the platform. So there’s plenty of room there for convincing more farmers that this is the way to go.”
In the long term, Herdwatch has clear plans to become a major player internationally. “I’m not talking about global domination, but if we’ve done it at a level where we become one of the top two or three software agritech companies, I’d be very happy.”