Technological advancements have ushered in digitalisation across sectors and geographies. Internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and predictive analytics are transforming industries. However, the impact of new-age technologies on the more traditional sectors, such as agriculture and livestock farming, remains limited in scope and largely confined to developed countries.
In Australia, the US and Ireland, farmers have gradually embraced IoT in their bid to lower cost and increase productivity. The technology that has gained maximum traction is wearable devices with in-built IoT and AI functionalities. These boost operational efficiency by simplifying day-to-day activities.
A nagging concern for farmers is losing cattle, an expensive price to say the least.
Certain wearable devices that can be attached to cattle help in keeping track of their location and activity. Animals can roam freely in their search for pastures without any fear of getting lost.
IoT-enabled wearable devices can help in monitoring the cattle’s diet. Tracking details such as the time taken to graze, socialize or rest can help in ensuring the health and optimal activity levels for the cattle.
Cowlar manufactures a tracking wearable device, Fitbit for cows.
Besides tracking location, the device measures body temperature, monitors behavior, detects the early onset of a disease, helps manage stress, tracks rumination and facilitates comparison with feed intake. Efficient feeding contributes to increasing milk production.
Cows and goats are usually farmed for milk. In-built sensors in some wearable devices not only help determine the best time to milk the animal but also keep a track of the quantity and speed. This information can be used to enhance competency and effectively manage time in farming operations. The quality of the end product can also be monitored.
Mastiline has developed an automated monitoring device, LUCI, for inline detection of contamination in milk. With the help of the device, which is connected directly to the milking machine, a small sample can be extracted for analysis. If the quality is not found to be at par with the set standard, the farmer can use this information to figure out ways of improving it.
Wearable devices can be used to check the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, digestion and other vital signs. Hence, any symptoms of an illness can be quickly identified and, if needed, the afflicted animal can be quarantined. The devices also track reproductive cycles and labor, ensuring a healthy birth.
Advanced animal diagnostics has developed a portable diagnostic device, QScout Farm Lab. It detects infections and can give the result in 40 seconds. It helps in early diagnosis of diseases.
Several companies are attracted to the sector, lured by its potential. Farmnote, for example, offers a cloud type herd management system that gathers real-time data based on which critical decisions can be taken. The system examines cattle activity and sends out notifications to the user’s smart device on any signs of illness, accidents or unforeseen events.
A similar product, Rex, based on a cloud computing platform with predictive tools, saves time, is cost-effective and increases biosecurity. Targeted at veterinarians, it tracks diseases; facilitates antimicrobial resistance surveillance; forecasts; and provides drug efficacy information and breeding support.
In livestock farming, breeding is integral to herd management.
Farmers can use genetic information to raise healthier and more productive animals. TL Biolabs offers a genomics platform which gives farmers a low-cost option to perform genetic testing on their herd.
Evonik Animal Nutrition is introducing Porphyrio, a precision livestock farming tool. Specially created for poultry farming, it uses big data for streamlining processes. The goal is to optimize the contribution per animal, thereby, increasing productivity.
Technologies for livestock farming are gradually turning into a lucrative business, reflected in several startups attracting investors. About 95 startups in this industry drew nearly $500 Mn in funding.
Unfortunately, emerging countries, that generate a significant portion of their GDP from agriculture and livestock farming, are yet to realize the benefits of modernization. The main reasons are:
Traditional sectors in emerging economies are not organized. For example, in India, even though these sectors account for the maximum employment, they are marred by the absence of a union or organization that would bind them together. Due to the fragmented nature, it is difficult to introduce new technology into the system quickly and efficiently.
Awareness on technologies for this sector is missing. In the absence of requisite knowledge, it is quite natural for farmers and farm owners to be unable to access latest technologies.
For emerging countries, technologies must be cost-effective. High cost can be a huge deterrent, offsetting the benefits of the product or technology.
Optimal usage of most technologies depends on the availability of internet. However, absence or poor internet penetration in rural areas renders technologies useless. These places, therefore, require offline technical solutions.
Most farmers need the training to use the technologies effectively. In the absence of proper training, effectiveness will be compromised.
Technologies for farming contribute to other sectors as well, such as meat processing, leather, oil and fast food, where either livestock or products derived from livestock serve as the main raw material.
There is a huge opportunity for automation of farms in developing countries. Use cases of technologies, such as digital twin, AI, ML and predictive analytics, are still being researched.
New-age technologies can completely change the face of farming across the globe. The key challenge is to ensure these technologies are easily available, user-friendly with low internet requirement, and yet cost-effective.
Population explosion, coupled with the resultant rise in demand for quality food, has necessitated modernization and digitalization of processes in agriculture and livestock farming. Currently, an untapped market with limited availability of products and solutions, the scope for expansion in this sector is immense.