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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.

Welcoming NoFence to our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub

NoFence (www.nofence.co.uk), has created the world’s first virtual fencing for livestock: using GPS and cellular communication technology built into special collars to help farmers graze animals on pasture without the need for traditional penning and electric fences. Our vision is to improve animal welfare and make it easier for farmers to rear animals, as well as promote sustainable food production and help people to make better use of pasture resources throughout the world.

The Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub is designed to unite tech innovators, business thinkers, engineers and all agricultural expertise under one roof. From flexible office space to events and workshops, the hub supports agri-tech innovators to take their solutions from the planning stage to testing on commercial farms and ultimately to market.

Set in the home of British agricultural engineering, Shropshire, on the Harper Adams University campus, the hub is one of four Agri-EPI Centre facilities. We sat down with network member and Innovation Hub resident NoFence to catch up on their game-changing fencing solutions and how the Midlands centre is supporting agri-tech innovation.

The world’s first virtual fencing for livestock

Using GPS and cellular communication technology, Nofence eliminates the need for traditional pens and electric fences for livestock. Smart tech in special collars worn by the animals means they can graze on pastures without physical boundaries, making farming easier for farmers, more sustainable for the planet and kinder to animals.

“The Nofence system facilitates the managed grazing process,” explains the Nofence team. “[It allows] farmers to change the boundaries of the grazing zones throughout the day, in order to optimise the energy uptake in the grass and avoid overgrazing.”

“Grazing animals on open pasture land offers well-documented benefits for both wildlife and the environment. For example, grazing animals will often choose more dominant plant species to eat, allowing less competitive plants to thrive. In addition, grazing animals that lie and roll help increase structural diversity of the land, and trampling helps to create areas of bare ground that produce nurseries for seedlings.”

Inspire, inform, innovate

Nofence is just one of the many agri-tech innovators in residence at our Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub, where the availability of all kinds of agricultural expertise and access to commercial farms for trials and research offer practical benefits to their agri-tech solutions.

“We are always striving to create a product that the farmers find useful,” they say. “It’s not about what we want to make, but about what the customers need.”

Testing technology in a real farming environment allows agri-tech companies to see the practical application of the technology being developed. For Nofence, it’s been hugely exciting to see how their work helps the farmer bring a herd out of the barn and into the pasture.

“Nofence takes the animals back outside, so that the farmer can benefit from all of the land and the ‘free food’ that the animals are made to collect. The grazing ruminant has always been there and is equipped with four legs to find their own food – Nofence allows them to do this, in a much simpler way than before.”

The future of agri-tech

Looking ahead, Nofence plans to use the Midlands Innovation Hub as a centre to continue developing innovative agri-tech solutions and forge links between the UK and their home country of Norway. For Nofence, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of self-sufficiency: “With our technology, countries like Norway and the UK can utilise all of their land to produce food and rely less on imports,” they explain.

With big plans and even bigger goals, Nofence shows no sign of slowing down and can rely on the Midlands Hub as a springboard for their projects to grow nationwide. “Our goal for the UK is that every farmer should have the option to fence virtually,” they declare. “Physical fencing is so 2018!”

To find out more about our Agri-Tech Innovation Hubs, and see how your business could benefit from the many spaces and opportunities available, contact us today.

COVID-19 will drive digital transformation for livestock vets

The COVID-19 crisis is a catalyst for increasing the rate of digital adoption by UK livestock vets, according to Agri-EPI Centre Board member Matt Dobbs.

Writing for the Animal Pharm website, Matt, who is practice lead for digital technology at Stonehaven Consulting, suggests coronavirus has led the already-challenged veterinary industry to question the ways it works and identify areas for improvement.

Factors already indirectly influencing the livestock veterinary industry, including the increasing focus on domestic food production, have come even more to the fore because of the crisis. As food production responds and adapts, says Matt, livestock vets must consider how they can stay ahead of the game.

Digital transformation for livestock vets

Digital solutions for monitoring livestock health and welfare have become more varied and more affordable over the past 10-15 years, while also becoming of greater interest to the big processors and retailers. Matt believes the rise of digital technology could very well revolutionise the types of services offered by livestock vets.

Citing the move by the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to respond to Covid-19 by legalising the remote prescribing of medications to farms, Matt suggests, that should this happen across Europe, we will reach a point where the majority of medicines are dispensed by just a few companies.

Loss of revenue in this area means farm vets will have to look at new streams, very likely involving tech solutions. This could see ruminant vets becoming consultants looking after larger animal populations remotely, like their pig and poultry counterparts already do.

Matt said:

“The future is going to be very different. You will see different business models, such as dedicated farm consultant working from the back of their car. Do they really need an office and all the expense that goes into having a clinical practice? All they really need is a decent laptop, access to health and production data and a car.”

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.

Webinar agri-tech opportunities in Columbia

International collaboration

The diverse opportunities in Colombia available to UK agri-tech companies is the focus of an Agri-EPI Centre webinar on Thursday 23 April.

Agri-EPI’s Director of Business Development Lisa Williams, who will co-host the webinar, was part of a recent trade mission to Colombia, organised by the Prosperity Fund, the Knowledge Transfer Network and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). During a tour of the country, Lisa witnessed first-hand the many opportunities, particularly those associated with fruit, coffee, livestock and cocoa supply chains.

Lisa said:

“There is so much potential in Colombia for UK agri-tech businesses. At present, there is a significant gap in yield between the smallest and largest producers and technology is needed to help fill the gap.

“It’s clear that the Colombian government and its agri-food sector want to increase food production, but, crucially, they want to achieve this sustainably, meaning technology has a huge role to play in increasing precision and efficiency across all sectors. The various organisations I met are extremely interested in working with UK agri-tech companies so there is a huge opportunity in this diverse country.”

Agri-tech in Colombia

Colombia is the third largest Latin American country by population (49.8m) and the fourth largest by GDP. It had an average economic growth of over 4% between 2001 and 2017 and grew 2.7% in 2018. Ranked third in Latin America and the Caribbean for “ease of doing business” in 2017 by World Bank and the IMF, Colombia has access to 60 countries and more than 1.5 billion consumers through its network of trade agreements. Some of these agreements include the US, Canada, the EU, and South Korea.

Hosting the webinar with Lisa will be representatives from the British Embassy Colombia, Catapult Satellite Applications and Knowledge Transfer Network.

The speakers will provide an overview of findings from the trade mission and how UK agri-tech companies can respond to the needs of the Colombian agri-food supply chain. There will also be information about Colombia’s major trade show, ‘Expo Agrofuturo’, which, coronavirus restrictions allowing, is planned for August this year.

More information and sign up details for the webinar can be found here.

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.

Latest beef technology featured at Scotland’s Beef Event 2019

– Press release –

A comprehensive programme of practical beef demonstrations highlighting the latest technology available to beef farmers will be a major feature of Scotland’s Beef Event 2019 to be held on an Aberdeenshire farm on May 30.

This biennial on-farm event for the beef industry, organised by the Scottish Beef Association, will be hosted by farmers, Robbie and Barbara Milne, and son, James, at North Bethelnie, Oldmeldrum.

The main enterprise on the farm is a suckler herd of 320 Salers and Salers cross cows crossed with Charolais, Aberdeen-Angus and Salers bulls, with all calves either finished on the farm or sold as forward stores.

Features of the extensive programme will include a demonstration by the Agri-EPI centre of the benefits of sensor technology for the beef industry. This will include a new technique of inserting a bolus to measure body temperature for the earlier detection and warning of possible health problems such as pneumonia and Silent Herdsman collars, as used in the dairy industry, for fertility management and pregnancy diagnosis.

The Beef Monitor System, developed by Ritchie of Forfar in a project supported by Scotbeef and M&S, will also be featured. The system enables the performance of finishing cattle to be closely monitored by using technology to have them automatically weighed every time they drink.

The latest update to the system processes all the data using a traffic light system to indicate the performance of individual animals. The next step will be the fitting of cameras to measure conformation and predict the animal’s carcase classification.

A crate fitted with solar panels has also been developed to enable the system to be used in grass paddocks.

Moocall will be demonstrating their calving sensor which attaches to the tail of cows and tracks the tail movement patterns to accurately predict when cows are likely to give birth. An SMS text alert is sent out by ‘phone an hour prior to calving to enable the stock person to be present for the birth. The system is 100% non-invasive and gathers 600 pieces of data per second so that it can accurately predict when cows will give birth.

Other features will include demonstrations of foot trimming by Michael Creighton, drone technology for livestock systems by Mike Swindells of Perfect Pasture, and hydrogen powered machinery by Philip Davies of Water-Fuel Engineering.

The benefits of pelvic measurements as an aid to select heifers for easy calving will be explained by vet, Graham Fowlie, of Meadows Vets, Oldmeldrum, in a Vet Spotlight session, and SAC senior beef consultant, Gavin Hill, will conduct a live discussion with Robbie and James Milne on the management of their beef cattle enterprise.

There will also be a fencing demonstration by Alistair Smart of GP Smart and Son, Alford, and the benefits of wood waste, green waste and paper waste will be featured in an alternative bedding demonstration by A W Jenkinson Forest Products and Keenan Recycling, New Deer.

It is also hoped to include a special demonstration on grassland management, covering treatments, cultivations and applications.

“Technology is the future and Scotland’s Beef Event will provide beef farmers with an ideal opportunity to catch up with all the latest technology as it applies to the beef industry and to discuss its benefits with the experts,” said SBA vice-chairman, David Barron, who chairs the event organising committee.

“We are grateful to those organisations who are arranging such a comprehensive demonstration programme which will be of great interest to all beef producers.”

Other features of the event will include a farm tour, beef breeds demonstrations, a “Beef after Brexit” seminar, stockjudging competitions and an extensive trade stand area.

Gold sponsors already confirmed include ANM Group, Clydesdale Bank, East Coast Viners Animal Nutrition, Kepak McIntosh Donald, Meadows Veterinary Centre, Norvite Animal Nutrition, Ravenhill, Salers Cattle Society and Water-Fuel Engineering.

Target innovation in agriculture with Agri-EPI’s Farm Network

How do the innovative technologies and approaches, being devised and trialled through Agri-EPI Centre, make their way to the front line of UK farming? A key route is through the Centre’s 28 satellite farms, a network of commercial enterprises covering all major agricultural commodities.

Research and Development

The farms are set up as test-beds for research and development to aid the improvement of productivity and efficiency within the farm and across the sector. The network will measure key elements within each farming system using cutting edge agriculture techniques and equipment, such as robotics, sensors, satellite imagery, soil analysis and precision feeding and nutrient application.

The results of studies on each farm will be used in three ways: each farm will demonstrate and highlight successful innovations to others in the industry through on-farm meetings (each farm has its own dedicated meeting and research space with full Wi-Fi connectivity and presentation facilities); tech companies will work with the farms to test new products before taking them to market; data collected from across the network will be of value to government, researchers and the supply chain in identifying current trends and future developments.

Introducing Upper Nisbet Farm

One of the satellite farms signed up with Agri-EPI Centre is Upper Nisbet Farm in the Scottish Borders. Upper Nisbet Farm runs a beef finishing enterprise with a 320 head of cattle and 636.25 hectare of arable and grassland. This video outlines the Satellite Farm concept, projects ongoing and which systems are trialled in collaboration with commercial partners. The data collected helps to understand where inefficiencies are entering the farming system, allowing Agri-EPI Centre to identify areas to target innovation. The satellite farm, in return, can improve efficiency and become more profitable.

Agri-EPI Centre’s Projects and Technical Manager Stephen Burns explained there has been strong interest from farms around the UK in membership of the satellite network.

“We have sought to select farms with strong links into the major retailers and which have a good track record of innovation and knowledge exchange. So far, the network covers enterprises producing beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, dairy, cereals and fish. We’re also seeking to recruit fruit and salad suppliers.”

More information

If you would like more information about the Satellite Farm Network, please contact Agri-EPI Centre via enquiries@agri-epicentre.com. Watch this space for more news on the Satellite Farm Network as the initiative progresses.

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