Dairy - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Dairy

Supporting the many dairy herds around the UK, Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture. Seeking to improve yield, efficiency and the welfare and wellbeing of our milking herds; collaborating and promoting novel technology and husbandry in partnership with farmers, scientists and retailers.

Data project paves way for improved cow management and breeding

A new project combining the know-how of agri-tech experts at Agri-EPI Centre and genetics scientists at The Roslin Institute hopes to pave the way for more precise dairy cow management and breeding.

The DairyMine Project is seeking to integrate on-farm cow performance data with genomic data, by assembling a pilot dataset from project farms. The project partners will ‘mine’ the dataset (the process of finding patterns, correlations and anomalies within large data sets to predict outcomes) to develop a data-driven cow management and breeding platform for use by farmers. They will also project the impact of scaling the DairyMine to more farms.

This accessible means of viewing the whole range of information about each of their animals in one place could help farmers with day-to-day cow management, such as picking up illness at the earliest possible stage, as well offering medium to long-term impact on animal performance by supporting more accurate breeding predictions.

The project outcomes will also support training of a new generation of farm data scientists at the Easter Bush Campus in Edinburgh. In March 2021, it was announced that the Easter Bush Agritech Hub would receive £27 million from the UK Government, £1.3 million from the Scottish Government, and £31.3 million from the University of Edinburgh, as partners of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

Agri-EPI Centre’s Head of Dairy, Duncan Forbes, said: “Information about the health, fertility and performance of the herd at our South West Dairy Development Centre is recorded in a variety of ways, including through multi-sensor embedded milking robots and animal wearables. Combining this wealth of data with each animal’s genomic information, which will be obtained by the team at The Roslin Institute, will allow us to consider the whole picture when it comes to making both short and longer-term management and breeding decisions.”

Gregor Gorjanc, Chancellor’s Fellow in Data-Driven Innovation for Agri-tech at The Roslin Institute explained: “While cow performance and genomic data is already available to farmers, its volume, and the lack of a single means of analysing, integrating and viewing it presents a barrier to farmers. We hope to prove that this can be achieved, bringing benefits to the dairy sector and to future researchers here in Edinburgh.”

This project is supported by the Scottish Funding Council’s Covid-19 Recovery Scheme via The University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation initiative.

World Milk Day 2021: How agri-tech is boosting milk production

June 1st marks World Milk Day, a global celebration of the dairy sector and its most widely-consumed produce. Established in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the day focuses on promoting the benefits of milk and dairy products.

The dairy sector is central to agri-tech innovation, with a wide range of new technologies currently in development and trial. From robotic milking and feeding machines to environmental sensors and smart cow collars, agri-tech is key to improving efficiencies and productivity of the dairy sector, as well as improving animal welfare and care.

Innovative agri-tech solutions that draw on cutting-edge AI, imaging and robotics technologies are also essential to inspiring a new workforce in the sector. “The dairy farm of the future needs to be an exciting place for future generation to work in a world of ever-increasing choice,” reflects Duncan Forbes, Head of Dairy at Agri-EPI Centre.

Forbes continues that agri-tech must rise to the meet the “circular dairy challenge”, which includes achieving sustainability goals such as global net zero targets.

Innovations in dairy sector agri-tech

The range of applications for agri-tech, and the benefits smarter farming solutions can offer dairy farmers, are wide-ranging and exciting. Video is highlighted as an emerging technology for dairy cow management, as well as radar, audio and remote sensors, all of which can be used to monitor the wellbeing of cattle and help farmers make better decisions about their livestock.

SmARTview is one such project taking great strides to drive the adoption of agri-tech across the dairy sector. Currently in the trial stages, Agri-EPI Centre is working in partnership with the University of Bristol and mathematical modelling experts Quant Foundry to use affordable off-the-shelf cameras to monitor minute changes in cow behaviour.

The project aims to develop an AI-based system through which a “hololens” AR headset can recognise individual animals and allow the wearer to view key health and productivity data about livestock in real time.

Combined with machine learning and predictive analytics, the data collected by the SmARtview project can identify early signs of disease and illness in animals, putting quality data at farmers’ fingertips to improve decision-making, productivity and efficiency on-farm.

Looking forwards

 

This World Milk Day, we’re hugely proud to celebrate SmARTview as just one of our many exciting agri-tech innovations in the dairy sector currently being explored. We can’t wait to see what the dairy sector looks like on World Milk Day next year, or even in ten years.

You can find out more about our work in the dairy sector and projects similar to SmARTview on our website.

Increasing buffer feeding precision with new agri-technologies

Faced with rising feed prices, effective use of grass for both grazing and conservation is increasingly important for farmers to maintain margins. Balancing the need to ensure sufficient silage stocks for the coming winter with the desire to get the most from grazing to reduce spend on purchased feed.

As the climate remains unpredictable, as seen by the cold, wet spring of 2020 followed by hot, dry weather, grass growth rates have seen wide variances year-on-year. With so many fluctuations in price and seasonal changes, buffer feeding is likely to be required by many farmers at some stage during the grazing season to prepare for dips in grass growth.

While the majority of buffer feed is made up of maize and grass silage, there are alternatives available. In partnership with molasses blend supplier ED&F Man, Agri-EPI Centre research conducted at the Agri-EPI South West Dairy Development Centre found that including a proportion of straw and molasses-based liquid feed in the buffer feed can offer the dual benefits of allowing production to be maintained whilst preserving valuable silage stocks.

Buffer feeding research

The trial aimed to better understand and analyse the impact of replacing some grass silage in the buffer feed with a mix of wheat straw and Regumix, a high-energy and protein liquid feed made from molasses, compared to the original feed and the molasses/straw buffer feed.

Utilising the centre’s GEA Mullerup automated feeding system, a digitally-controlled system with the necessary precision for feeding trials, and working with Agri-EPI’s operational partner, Kingshay Dairy Consultants, ensured data and delivery protocols were adhered to for reliable results. 

Lower feed costs, greater production

Georgina Chapman, technical support manager at ED&F Man, reported: “Over a six-week period, there was no difference in yield between the cows fed the initial buffer and those where straw and Regumix was included. The cows were mainly later lactation and the animals on the molasses buffer showed similar lactation persistency but slightly better compositional quality.”

“Importantly, for cows in later lactation, there was no difference in body condition changes between the two groups,” she added. “However, there was a saving of 7.5kg silage per cow per day. Assuming 200 cows were fed the new buffer, the total silage saved over the six weeks would have been over 60 tons, giving more for winter feeding.”

In a commercial herd, the buffer feed would probably have been needed for 18 weeks; on closer analysis, this suggested potential savings of closer to 200 tons, which could then be used to increase silage fed per cow per day over winter.

Chapman noted that, as molasses and straw are easily stored and less likely to perish in storage, their inclusion in buffer feed can also contribute to maximising silage production and availability, ultimately maintaining production from grazing and reducing the impact of higher feed costs for farmers.

Agri-technology increases buffer feeding precision

Reviewing the trial results, Agri-EPI Centre’s head of dairy at the South West Dairy Development Centre Duncan Forbes said, “We know growth rates can change very quickly … with the best will in the world no dairy farmer can keep on top of grazing output using manual techniques. At the same time, adjusting buffer feeds on a more frequent basis would be a challenge.”

“Collecting and utilising better management information could help take a significant step in improving grazing use – and new technologies hold the key to this.”

“Integrated use of data and technology in this way can help improve the contribution from grazing, reduce feed costs, improve grazing utilisation and help meet carbon reduction targets for more sustainable systems.”

With further trials already underway using hyperspectral imaging and satellite data to monitor and predict grass growth, helping farmers optimise precision grazing and fine-tune buffer feed, agri-technology continues to support farmers. Agri-EPI’s work to improve agricultural productivity and save farmers time and money even attracted the attention of British Dairying, who covered the buffer feeding precision trials.   

UK dairy agri-tech businesses to showcase technology in Ukraine event

UK-based agri-tech companies that provide agri-technology solutions to the dairy farming and dairy processing sectors are being sought to develop a dairy centre of excellence in Ukraine’s Berdychiv district.

The centre, currently in the approval stages, would replace an existing dairy farm owned by leading agricultural company and grain production and export specialist, Nibulon. As well as increasing the dairy farm’s herd size, the centre will act as a centre of excellence to showcase innovative agri-tech in the dairy industry.

Declining milk production in Ukraine combined with rapidly increasing demand for dairy products has resulted in a critical need to improve the productivity and profitability of Ukraine’s dairy industry. In order to stimulate Ukraine’s dairy sector, UK agri-tech experts are being invited to demonstrate technical agricultural solutions on a commercial farm and processing unit. 

An exciting opportunity for UK agri-tech businesses

In partnership with the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), Agri-EPI Centre has been asked by the Department for International Trade (DIT) to connect with leading agri-tech businesses in the UK, inviting them to become a part of Agri-EPI Centre’s UK Smart Farm project in Ukraine and explore unique export opportunities in the country. As one of the UK’s two Agri-Tech Centres, Agri-EPI are well-placed to produce a blueprint for modern, efficient “smart” dairy, with a high health-status herd and integrated farmhouse cheese making.

“This is an exciting call for UK agri-tech businesses to potentially showcase their technology,” said Agri-EPI Centre’s Business Development Director Lisa Williams. “The UK has access to a wide portfolio of technical solutions that can help Nibulon and the wider dairy sector in Ukraine reach its aspirations.”

Jane Grady, HM Deputy Trade Commissioner for Eastern Europe and Central Asia:

“We want to bring together a group of innovative British companies to showcase UK excellence in dairy management and cheese making and become part of our new innovative UK Smart Farm project in Ukraine.”

Interested companies are invited to join a webinar to find out more about the project, Nibulon and agri-tech export opportunities in the Ukraine dairy sector. The webinar takes place on March 17th, from 12 – 13:15 GMT (14:00 – 15:15 EET).

The webinar will cover:

  • An overview of UK agri-tech export opportunities
  • UK agri-tech companies already successfully exporting to Ukraine 
  • The dairy sector opportunity in Ukraine
  • An overview of Nibulon
  • How Agri-EPI Centre & CIEL can support your agri-tech in Ukraine

To find out more about the webinar, visit our dedicated events section. To register to take part, go straight to the webinar registration page.

Event partners

Agri-EPI Centre is partnering with CIEL to showcase UK agri-tech business in UkraineAgri-EPI Centre is partnering with DIT to showcase UK agri-tech business in Ukraine

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

A real game-changer for dairy cow health

Dairy farmers and vets have enlisted the help of video gaming experts to enhance cow health in a unique new study.

The Innovate UK-funded SmARtview research project sees Agri-EPI Centre and UK Veterinary Group VetPartners join forces with experts at award-winning games developer Pocket Sized Hands and Abertay University’s School of Design & Informatics.

The project aims to develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that can recognise a cow by its skin patterns and use a ‘HoloLens’ Augmented Reality (AR) headset to display health and productivity data about an animal as a user views it.

Agri-EPI’s innovative South West Dairy Development Centre is the project test-bed.

Agri-EPI Head of Dairy Duncan Forbes explained:

“By using the type of technology that is becoming extremely advanced in the video gaming world, we hope to be able to take the care and treatment of dairy cattle into a new era.

The beauty of this project is that it combines farmers’ and vet’s experienced ‘eyes’ with real-time data: technology is being used to enhance, rather than replace, human skills. In addition, SmARtview could provide a solution to one of the key challenges of on-farm technology – while different devices like robotic milkers, sensors and collars can already collect plentiful data, its lack of integration limits insight to drive decision-making.”

Typically, a vet or farmer faces the time-consuming process of examining a cow then going to the farm office to review a variety of paper of PC-based records before determining what kind of intervention may be needed. SmARtview would make the whole process much more efficient and effective.

The new system will be trialled by vets and allied professionals from VetPartners’ practices around the UK. Rachel Dean, VetPartners’ Director of Clinical Research and Excellence in Practice said:

“The farming industry is changing and VetPartners wants to support farmers through this change by offering the best capabilities in terms of health, production and welfare. SmARtview has huge potential for vets and allied professionals, such as foot trimmers and veterinary technicians, who work on farms of all types and sizes. It is a unique and very innovative project which could transform the way they practice.”

Abertay is a world leader in applying games technology to the business, education and healthcare sectors and the University is ranked number one in Europe for videogames education.

Pocket Sized Hands and Abertay University’s School of Design and Informatics are bringing world-leading expertise to the project. Abertay’s Professor Ruth Falconer explained that the first challenge is to develop the AI technology capable of recognising an individual animal. She said:

“Our aim is to put new technology to best use in order to solve problems in the real world. This project brings together our research areas of AI, User Experience and games technology. We aim to develop ‘marker-less’ technology which can achieve the difficult task of recognising a cow by the patterning of its skin and shape in an environment where it is likely to be dirty and the light and weather conditions change frequently.”

When the researchers have cracked the challenge of cow-recognition, Pocket Sized Hands (PSH) will lead the prototype AR development and lend their expertise to the User Experience (UX) aspect of the technology. Their skills with ensure the augmented reality display of data is presented to the user in an engaging way.

PSH Chief Executive Gary McCartan explained:

“It’s really exciting to be applying technology we normally use in game development to the world of farming. AR combines the real world with digital assets – information that is usually tied to a screen can now be viewed in the real world. Use of the technology is in its early stages. For example, current headsets are quite bulky which would not be practical in a farm situation. We will be looking at ways to allow cow data to be easily accessed and understood.”

The initiation of this project was supported by video games cluster InGAME.

Hackathon inspires solutions for tackling impact of COVID-19

Concepts for a solar powered, zero emission orchard robot and a remote, digital veterinary diagnosis tools which requires no apps or software installation have been announced as the winners of the Agri-EPI Centre agri-tech hackathon. A total of 11 teams took part on the hackathon, which was held to support the development of technological solutions to problems posed by COVID-19. The winning teams receive a year of product launch support from experts at Agri-EPI Centre.

Hackathon team winners

The Hackathon focused on the horticulture and livestock/veterinary sectors:

Horticulture hackathon

The winning team in the horticulture sector is Orcharbot with their concept for a solar powered, zero-emission crop scouting and weeding robot featuring six technology innovations for weed identification and organic removal, fruit surveying and picking. The team members came from University of the West of England, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Antobot.

Judging this section of the hackathon were Rob Wilkinson of Grimme; Ali Capper of the NFU; David Telford of Knowledge Transfer Network and Adam Spate of Bardsley England. They were highly impressed with the ambitious, zero emissions concept.

Veterinary hackathon

The winner of the veterinary hackathon is a team from technology provider FarmVet Systems. Their concept – ‘VetAccess’ – builds on their existing VetIMPRESS secure data management platform. Their idea focuses on enabling farm teams to benefit fully from the technology in the face of challenges created by vets working remotely due to Covid restrictions.

The judges in this category were Jan Van Dijke of Zoetis; Tim Potter of WestPoint Farm Vets (VetPartners); George Paterson of Landmark Systems; and Lucy Mather of the Knowledge Transfer Network. They particularly liked the farmer-focused vision behind the concept.

Agri-EPI’s Business Development Director, Lisa Williams, said:

“The level of interest and enthusiasm from all the entrants to our hackathon exceeded all of our expectations and we thank all the competitors and the judges for taking part. The Agri-EPI team is very excited about the coming year, as we work with both winning teams to support the feasibility testing and development of their concepts.

“There were many other strong ideas put forward during the hackathon which show great promise, so we have decided to work with all teams to provide support as they build on their ideas.”

Partners

We thank our challenge partners for their support: Vet Partners, ZoetisKnowledge Transfer Network, Landmark Systems, Bardsley England, Grimme, NFU and Knowledge Transfer Network. 

 


This Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, through an Open Call issued and executed under the project SmartAgriHubs (Grant Agreement No. 818 182)

This Project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, through an Open Call issued and executed under the project SmartAgriHubs (Grant Agreement No. 818 182)