In this week’s Career Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Iarla Hughes, a UCD AST (Agricultural Systems Technology) graduate. The Meath native discusses his dairy farming roots, and the ag-tech industry, including his work at Moocall.
Resilience, patience, and hard work are the three key ingredients to succeed in the agricultural industry.
If you want to make it to the top, you need to be a little different, stand out from the crowd, and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Those are the sentiments of 24-year-old, Iarla Hughes, who graduated from University College Dublin in 2020 when Ireland was at the height of its first lockdown.
However, the Agricultural Systems Technology (AST) graduate did not view this as a negative despite the timing.
“I tried to look at the positives, and as we all know, food production never ceased, so it was probably the best sector to be searching for employment,” he told That’s Farming.
“You will have setbacks along the way, but if you stay focused, you can get to where you want to be,” he added.
The Summerhill, Co Meath native hails from a 125-cow dairy farm and secured a role with one of Ireland’s most progressive ag-tech companies earlier this year.
The farm comprises 125-cows, mostly Kiwi-cross-breds and some Holstein Friesians, alongside 33 in-calf heifers and 40 spring-born replacements, as part of a compact spring calving grass-based system.
The family increased their herd size and changed to a cross-bred system in 2013 with the abolition of quotas on the horizon. They aim to produce 500kg of milk solids from 500kg of concentrates, placing emphasis on an extended grazing season.
“We focus a lot on grassland management as this is key to running this system. We aim to measure grass every week throughout the grazing season. I am passionate about grass-based dairy systems. They are particularly suited to harness our favourable climate and leads to our quality milk supply.”
“My father is the main man. Most of the family help throughout the busy periods. My mother helps a lot around spring, calving as this is an important and busy period.”
“We have put a lot of effort into calf-rearing the last five years. As a result, we recently installed an automatic calf feeder, which is a massive labour-saving tool.”
“My younger brother and I help whenever we are around. He will be starting college soon and works with a local contractor throughout the summer. My sisters and I work full-time off-farm. So, it is a family effort to chip in whenever we are about,” he added.
His interest in technology aiding the daily life of farming unearthed a desire to further his studies in this field.
The fourth-generation dairy farmer is most passionate about implementing technology to increase efficiency, productivity, and sustainability across farming systems.
In his view, these are the core principles that can lead to a more profitable farming system with less labour and stress on farmers.
“I suppose the main challenge that a farmer can control to a certain degree is the type of farming system they are running.”
“I believe for young people in agriculture it is more about getting a good work-life balance at the same time. That is where I developed my interest.”
This interest led him to UCD in 2016, where he studied a four-year degree immediately after completing his Leaving Certificate.
After graduating from the world-renowned educational institution, he desired to enter the working world and “immerse” himself in how technology impacts modern-day agriculture.
In recent months, he secured his first position as a technical product executive with Moocall.
Moocall is a farmer-founded company based in Ireland, specialising in providing world-class innovations for the dairy and beef industries since 2014.
After closely studying specific animal behavioural patterns, Moocall has designed patented technology that utilises IoT connectivity platforms, providing “life-changing, accurate and real-time information” to a farmer’s fingertips.
According to the UCD graduate, the company “brings revolutionary solutions to farmers in what is typically a very traditional sector”.
Iarla moved to fill the position in March 2021 and is responsible for supporting customers and responding to any technical questions.
“In our busy periods, I am primarily based on the phone lines assisting our customers in Ireland but also as far away as USA and Australia.”
“I also help our research and development team with routine maintenance and the technical side of things in our quieter periods. We are a small but passionate team here. The great thing is that we are all multi-skilled, so we can help each other when required.”
He works closely alongside the company’s multilingual customer service team and liaises with its R&D team as the firm is “constantly reviewing our products and making refinements”.
Besides, he also engages with its marketing and warehouse team to ensure customers receive their products in a timely manner.
“Being a part of an Irish ag-tech company like Moocall makes me very proud. This company has gone from strength to strength over the years, collecting numerous innovation awards in its short existence.”
“As I play a lot of sport too, it is like working with another team here at Moocall, and everyone helps each other. It is a very enjoyable atmosphere. I get great satisfaction helping customers gain full advantage of our products to make their everyday life easier.”
“Furthermore, I would say the adoption of technology can sometimes be a daunting challenge to some farmers. I think getting over the initial hurdle of this is key. Technology may sound complex and sophisticated, but it is made to be simple and user-friendly.”
“Most of us here at Moocall are all farmers ourselves, so we know what the consumer wants. We are all about connecting the customer to their animals through technology to make their life a lot easier.”
“As I am still at the early stages of my career, getting my foot in the door with Moocall has been my highlight to date. It is the perfect fit for me as it merges my passion for mixing technology and my dairy farming background.”
Furthermore, he is also incorporating his degree by assisting with the research and development function.
What the future of farming holds
He has worked from the company’s HQ in Dublin from day one, and that will be the case going forward. Here, he experiences a team atmosphere, which, in his view, remote working cannot replicate.
“I have a short commute too. That makes life a little easier and gives me more time to do other stuff in my day,” the UCD graduate added.
“Coming from a dairy farm background, I have always had a passion for agriculture. I wanted to be a little different from the crowd and study what the future of farming holds.”
“Specialising to study ag-tech was the cornerstone of getting to work with a company like Moocall. I endeavour to continue a career in the ag-tech industry in the future.”
“I think adopting technology is the way forward to farming more efficiently and sustainably into the future. Moreover, I am excited to continue my journey in the ag-tech industry as this is my main career focus now.”
The open-minded Meath native believes mixing dairy farming and technology is his strong point, so a career in this area will always be where he “feels most comfortable”.
Recently at home, they have been discussing a second farm business in the form of selling their milk directly to consumers.
“There may be an opportunity in our area for this, and it is something that we can research over the coming months,” he revealed.
“Agriculture is such a broad industry; you never know where it might lead you to. One thing for certain is that it is an industry we are very passionate about, and you need to be too to succeed at the top.”
“Go for it, and do not be afraid to try things. If you are unsure what area you want to study or work in, I think it is best to adopt the trial-and-error approach. I believe you will quickly begin to find your interest and dislikes.”
“You will have setbacks along the way, but if you stay focused, you can get to where you want to be,” the UCD graduate.
He strongly advises building a career plan and setting long and short-term goals. “It is nearly like working backwards and thinking how I can achieve my long-term ambitions,” he added.
Furthermore, he said building contacts and networking with different people within the industry is paramount.
“There are going to be times where you might have to challenge yourself and do things out of your comfort zone. However, it will stand to you in the long run.”
“I predict the future ahead for farming in Ireland to be very positive. I suppose I am lucky in a sense the dairy sector is thriving at the moment, so we are in a good place at home.”
“However, there are so many opportunities out there, I would not put anyone off a career in any agriculture-related discipline,” he concluded.
Moocall Ploughing 2021 offers: Save €143 when purchasing a calving sensor and €564 on moocall HEAT – more information
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