That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with James Power of Limerick-based AgriGuardian Limited, an app-based platform that aims to protect the most vulnerable on farms.
“I grew up and am now the owner of my family farm in County Waterford. The farm is at least a third-generation dairy farm but with farming in different forms for many generations.
We were involved in dairying until December 2021, and my father semi-retired at that point. Given that I am full-time developing this business, we decided to lease much of our land, but we still have around 40 beef animals.
Our company AgriGuardian is on a mission to save lives on farms. It was founded by two friends who met at university while both studying engineering.
We currently have one full-time employee (me), and my co-founder is part-time in the business. We both had a keen interest in starting our own business for several years and came up with the idea while I was completing my Advanced Certificate in Agriculture several years back.
I remember partaking in the safety module, and as part of that course, we were shown the graph of fatalities on Irish farms since 1995.
The graph was a relatively flat one, with farming averaging 25-35 fatalities each year. Farming in Ireland accounts for over 50% of all workplace fatalities while only making up 5% of the workforce.
From here, we knew that there was an evidence-based problem to be solved. I had good knowledge of the challenges and the market, so this was our starting point for designing the product.
We were also aware that uniquely for this challenge, the market was very well educated about the problem owing to the very successful government-led safety campaigns, but even with this, people were still dying.
Knowing the market as we did, we knew our solution had to be easy to adopt and be able to deal with the non-routine nature of farming.
During development, we noted that the cohort of fatalities could be split into two groups (over 65s/under 16s and all others).
We saw that in the past five years, 65% of fatalities were in this first group, and our product is designed for them. The features in the product try to combat the leading causes of fatality in that group (machinery, tractors, animals).
When reading the cases individually, we noted that there was a recurring message, ‘I just did not realise they were there’, so our product and features endeavour to alert to the presence of these vulnerable users, be they close to operators or just in generally hazardous areas in the farm.
Our product is the AgriGuardian app and AgriGuardian Smartwatch.
We work with a very talented software development company in Galway called Grafton Digital to build the platform.
Our app has three main features, as I will not outline below:
- Alert Zones – Registered guardians can draw shapes around either danger/safe zones on their farm using a Google satellite image, so think back garden for a safe zone or slurry pit/dangerous animal location for a danger zone. If a protected user enters/leaves, one of these zones, all registered guardians are alerted.
- Proximity warning – Once the guardian activates this feature, if a protected user comes within ~40M of them, that guardian is alerted. We think this especially useful during machinery operation
- Anchoring alert – If the guardian activates this feature and if the protected user strays more than 40M away, that guardian will be alerted. This is for bringing the much younger kids onto the farm to try and educate them etc., and gives the guardian virtual eyes in the back of their head.
How does it work?
We allow unlimited guardians to be added to a family account and the same for protected users. This gives families flexibility regarding who should be alerted and allows temporary users to be added, so if friends are coming to play, they can be added.
It also means machinery contractors workers can be added. During sign-up, users are asked if they would like to be added to an existing farm (each farm has a unique 6-digit code).
Entering this will add you to that farm with all zones and protected users pre-loaded. This process takes no more than 5minutes.
Our alerts are unique in that they are so much more than just a notification ping; alarms stay sounding until acknowledged by that user.
To deliver these features, users need a smartphone with our app installed and the farm to have an active licence.
For protected users that are not yet of the smartphone age, we will be offering our smartwatch in Q1 2023, which offers the same protection.
From the above, you can see we are all about warning early and relevant people.
Alert zones are an initial warning to say a child is now on-farm (or has left their safe area), and proximity and anchoring are stage 2, more serious than the child has left your close proximity or close by, and operations should be ceased until the line of sight is established, and they are safe again.
For the smartphone age-protected user (10–15-year-olds), delivering features through their phone is useful as we see that this age group are rarely without their phone and, therefore, our product can be integrated without conscience thought.
Warning about the presence of vulnerable users and giving peace of mind to parents who are trying to find the balance between independence and safety is the main advantage.
The redrawing of zones and the use of people’s phones means the solution adapts to the non-routine nature of farming.
It does require mobile data connection but uses very low data, so we predict it is useful on 96%+ of farms, but we understand there will be farms that just do not have the required signal.
For this, we offer people a free trial period on download before they are charged, and they can cancel free of charge before that trial ends should they find the solution does not work on their farm.
Firstly, we target the app at parents with children under 16 on farms.
Also, people with elderly parents still living on the farm and farm contractors who want to give their workers additional safety, especially if we consider many contract workers may not be 100% familiar with the farm they are working on.
We are the only child safety solution that has been designed from the ground up with farming in mind.
We really believe in the importance and potential impact of this product and, therefore, are the best value solution on the market.
Moreover, we firmly believe that farms are a place where valuable life lessons are learned, and we want to continue to foster kids’ curiosity and provide them with an appropriate level of freedom.
Our product ensures they are doing all of these things just as their parents would have just in safe areas.
During development, I noted that as a dairy farmer, I had more information and data on my cows and the soil than the people on the farm.
We have the technology in our pockets that allows us to place virtual safety bubbles around those most vulnerable.
Given the often spoken about global food supply chain, we feel the most important part of that supply chain (the worker and, in our case, the future farmers) are being left behind somewhat.
We are the only solution designed specifically for the farming niche and are the only solution offering the combination of features that we offer.
App sub fees and watches
Subscription to our application is €9.99 per month or €99 per year; again, one subscription covers the entire family with unlimited users.
Our subscription is per family as we firmly believe that price should never be a barrier to entry to a customer when it comes to safety
The watches, when they launch, will be €120 per watch.
We have a fantastic partner in AXA insurance who has bought in and supported us in our mission. The firm will be offering subscriptions to some selected new and existing policyholders in the next three months.
Our Android app is available through the Google Play Store. Our iOS version will be on the Apple app store in the next 3-4 weeks, and our watches will be available through our website (www.agriguardian.farm) and in some Three stores in Q1 2023.
We are just in the phase of transitioning from development and building to getting our message out there.
While we get our apps fully on the app stores and finalise our Smartwatch development before year-end, we will also be doing demos all across the country and attending as many trade shows as possible in 2023 to get our message out.
After this, our app will get a refresh based on customer feedback and add some features like reporting. We then hope to enter the UK in Q2 2023.
We have early design concepts for a device for the adult farm worker. Their needs differ from the group we are protecting, but we hope to start working on this in Q3 2023.
We want to make AgriGuaridan the recognised brand and leader in the farm safety segment. We also have an interest in repurposing our solution to other markets, but we want to fully launch and be operational in the agriculture sector first.
If there are any farm groups, charities or businesses that would like to arrange a demo, we are happy to travel anywhere in Ireland, and they can reach us at [email protected].”
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