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Seismic shift in precision farming technology

Disease-forecasting tool for salmon among innovations coming on stream

May 21, 2021
By Liza Mayer

Farmers might soon be able to find out farm trends through voice interaction via mobile phones Photo: oatawa/Getty Images

“What’s the biomass in the pen this morning?” 

Can you imagine a time when a farmer could simply ask an app on his mobile phone such question? The scenario might not be as far-fetched as you think.

Data-driven decision-making is still in its infancy in animal protein production but innovations are happening to improve farm production, management and risk mitigation.

Efforts to reduce the barriers to understanding the multitude of data that’s being collected and to naturally interact with it are happening, said Karen Hildebrand of Amazon Web Services at the AgTech Innovation Summit in March.


“We are excited to see companies say how digital technology is helping to put more data in the hands of producers, be that in dairy, in feed or sheep. But what we’re really excited to see is that the focus is how to move that data to the decision-makers, people that are able to take action,” said Hildebrand.

While dashboards tell the farm data, farmers might soon be able to find out farm trends through voice interaction, she suggested.

“As simple as it might be in terms of asking Alexa what the weather is in the morning, so similarly, what’s the number of animals in a given paddock? What’s the pasture management movement that I need to do today? Those are the kinds of questions that we see customers building using that kind of underlying digital technology,” she said. 

Forecasting tools
Other experts at the summit said there’s also movement towards predictive analytics, which is far more useful than today’s “alarm-based” tech.

“If it’s an alarm, it is a little bit late. What you want to have is to see the tendency (of the incident) as it approaches. You have to be good at analyzing trends and reacting to them and that’s a big step in the right direction,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown of Perdue Foods.

In the farmed salmon industry, US-based startup Manolin launched in March a predictive analytics technology that forecasts early onset of pancreas disease and infectious salmon anemia. Its data-driven machine-learning models have accuracy at greater than 93 percent, it said. 

It is the only commercially available disease-forecasting tool for farmers in Norway, said the company. 

“This is a true breakthrough moment for our company and the industry as a whole. The last few months have been a culmination of many years of work — integrating numerous data silos, filling the gaps in industry data, expanding on academia’s disease research, and making it accessible for all farmers with user-friendly software,” says Manolin CTO and co-founder John Constantino.

Animal protein producers expect heavy investments into precision farming technology in 2021 as sector seeks to optimize efficiency to meet the world’s growing demand, according to a survey of respondents at summit.

“Precision farming through AI and computer vision technology gives fish farmers a smarter way of managing their farms,” said David Kelly of Innovasea.

“In aquaculture, innovations are underway to improve real-time monitoring of environmental data, dissolved oxygen, temperature and other key parameters that affect fish appetite and behaviour that can impact their long-term health. There are also efforts to pull data together from cohort to cohort. There’s still a lot of discovery to be done as to why one cohort performs better than another cohort, there’s multiple factors that impact that,” he said.

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