Terry Canning comes from a farming family and it seemed natural to him to bring together this background with his skills as an experienced IT architect, who has worked at a senior level with BT and Nortel Networks. So much so, that he gave up his job with Nortel to go it alone.
“I was working for Nortel and had been working in China for ten months,” Terry recalls. “I got voluntary redundancy from Nortel.” By then he was working on his ideas for software that could enable farmers to use a single computer internet-based interface to comply with the increasingly stringent and varied obligations to record the history and welfare of their animals and information on productivity.
In 2004, Terry approached Invest NI with his project ideas and they were very impressed. “I won a Smart Award, which gave me 75% of project costs, about £40,000,” he says. “I then started working in my attic, writing software, basing that on my knowledge of my dad’s farm. I went to DARD [the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development] and they got excited and bought 50 subscriptions for farms in Northern Ireland.”
Canning then went to his bank, which advanced funds under the small firms’ loan guarantee scheme. “This helped me to recruit someone for business development,” Terry explains. By this time, the business was already supplying the software to 150 farms in Northern Ireland and it had ambitious expansion plans.
“Our software makes it easier for farmers to maintain records,” continues Terry. “Ever since foot and mouth, farmers have had to keep records on vet treatments, animal movements and fertility. And on performance of the herd, for example on milk production.” Farm Wizard enables farmers to meet tougher legal requirements and also support the growing focus of retailers, and consumers, on food provenance.
Today Farm Wizard supplies about 1,000 farms in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. But it has also broken into other markets. “We have a number of corporate clients, for example, Dovecote Park, a beef processor which provides meat for Waitrose,” says Canning. Dovecote Park also uses the Farm Wizard software to provide reassurance on the provenance of its beef for other customers around the world, including in the United States, South America and for the largest grocery retailer in Africa, Shoprite Checkers.
Another Farm Wizard client is the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), one of New Zealand’s largest businesses. Farm Wizard has a partnership arrangement with LIC, which permits the software to be resold by LIC.
“We are growing through partnerships,” says Terry. “Our partnership in New Zealand is very important. We want to do more of that, entering more overseas markets by working with companies with an existing customer base and then getting access to all their customers and growing that way.
“We also want to do more with retailers. Some of the retailers are moving more towards this approach. You would not believe the level of detail some retailers want to collect now. This high level of detail is very important for them.”
The Farm Wizard software has gained wide respect across the farming industry, aided by winning a series of awards. As well as the Invest NI Smart Award, Farm Wizard was recognised as a winner of the prestigious annual Innovator Awards at the Sybase Techwave Conference at Cesar’s Palace three years ago.
Despite the commercial and reputational successes, Farm Wizard remains a small business. Terry does all the software writing – which varies slightly for different national markets and according to the local legislation – and he employs three colleagues to handle the marketing. The operation sounds as if it is going well and is very busy. “Absolutely,” says Terry, with emphasis.