The internet of things (IoT) is predicted to grow rapidly in the coming years, but what exactly is it and how will it impact on livestock farming?
Katie Jones reports.
The internet of things (IoT), which in essence is a network of ‘things’ which connect with each other, is now entrenched in everyday life.
For example, items which rely on IoT include activity trackers on your wrist, smart home devices which can control everything from heating to appliances, and even the more complex baby monitors.
And as experts talk about agriculture entering a digital revolution, IoT could also have a huge impact on the industry.
Robert Walker, chief executive officer at Keenan, explains the big technology companies are capitalising on IoT, but agriculture is somewhat lagging behind.
“The most popular applications are wearables and smart home hubs. Smart farming is not yet popular, but is an area waiting to be exploited,” he says.
“Agriculture has more data points and ‘things’ that need connecting than many other industries and the supply chains in farming are much longer. We should be able to benefit the most.”
Hubert de Roquefeuil, chief executive officer of Neovia, an animal nutrition group, agrees.
“We estimate today there are 30 million connected objects installed in agricultural operations. It will amount to 75 million by 2020,” he says.
“This will generate lots of data which will need to be analysed to improve services to the farmer and improve the farmer’s daily life, revenue and his ability to foresee.
“Data collection, comparison and processing could be used to create a wide range of innovative services.”
‘Data’ is another buzzword surrounding farming and ‘big data’ is a term used to describe the large volume of data which inundates a business on a daily basis.
Big data can be analysed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves. But it is not the amount of data that is important – it is what is done with the data that matters.
Data within the livestock supply chain currently comes from multiple sources, which makes it difficult to link, match and interpret.
“This data is not joined up on the farm, but also is not joined up in the supply chain” says Mr Walker.
“We need to rely on people other than farmers who will benefit from this data to get involved, for example processors and retailers.”
Keenan uses IoT to offer its users real-time monitoring of diet and animal performance.
The feeder wagon can send information to the InTouch team based in Dunboyne about whether the operator put the feed ingredients in correctly, and whether the ration was then delivered correctly to the animals.
“Feed efficiency is the goal”, says Mr Walker.
“And digital tech can greatly improve this. We have examples of farmers loosing up to £1,000 a year if a machine is not loaded properly and we can monitor this, and also how the ration was mixed through technology.
“Over-processing of the ration means more fuel is being used, the machine will wear quicker, and feed efficiency can be reduced by up to 10 to 15 per cent.”
Neovia already has a head start in understanding the complex relations between the IoT and its overwhelming masses of data, and the decision-making tools.
With investments in mobile applications for livestock farmers (for example My Farm Aqua, which studies and monitors performance factors in aquaculture farms, and Standipig, which measures performance in pig farms) and in a company called Equisense, which develops connected objects dedicated to horses, Neovia has gained extra expertise.
More recently, Neovia co-launched the Applifarm start-up with an aim to become the leading platform in the ruminant sector in France and connect 10,000 farmers by the end of 2018.
This is a platform which will use various sources of data (management, feed, dairy operations, livestock advice, breeding, performance monitoring) in order to help companies in the ruminant sector to create new services for livestock breeders and farmers.
These services will range from benchmarking performance and daily management to more customized recommendations.
More generally, Applifarm aims to help to improve economic performance and the profitability of livestock operations.
Applifarm is also a low-cost means of creating and developing new services which would be expensive, or even impossible to develop individually.
Using data already provided by the founding companies, the platform will be open to application developers.