Sensors that make sense: from farming to water control

Dairy farming has been a family affair at Parkend Farm in Scotland for three generations. But keeping an eye on the cows has never been easier. On his smartphone, Brian Weatherup receives automatic emails from the farm’s computer system, that alert him of any changes in the cows’ health or fertility status. The data is collected by collars the animals wear around their neck.

Collars for cows

“The collar indicates that there’s been a drop in a cow’s average eating time or average rumination time or average activity. And any one of these factors could be a primary indicator that the cow is either sick or just starting to get sick, and the key factor in these collars is that they can pick up these problems before they become very serious,” Brian explains.

When the animal eats, its neck muscles move – the movement is captured by the collars’ sensors, and wirelessly collected and processed. The collar’s developers are planning to add location tracking, which would be particularly valuable for free-grazing cows.

Milking cows: a robot’s affair

Milking robots measure the volume and composition of the milk produced by each cow. Farmers use this data to boost productivity and improve the well-being of their animals. These and other smart innovations are being studied at farms across Britain as part of an EU-funded research project aimed at making agriculture more sustainable and more efficient.

Ivan Andonovic is a researcher in communication systems at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, which is a partner of the project. “What’s happened with the technological evolution over the last ten years is that processing power has become cheaper, the energy spent in processing has dropped, and the functionality – the form factor, the shape, the size of it – is much more manageable. It’s only under those criteria that you can use technology to create an economic solution for the farming sector,” he says.

According to Freddie Reed, project manager at agritech innovation centre the Agri-EPI Centre, “The first stage of it is to find the extent of issues, collect the data over the farms, so we know what’s going on on the farm, then we can identify the causes of inefficiencies on the farm, and once we know the causes we can find the problems to solve those solutions.”

Brian says that in the six months since he adopted the new technology, production has increased by one fifth and his animals’ health has improved, too. Researchers see even greater potential in integrating sensor data along the production chain, by developing a common standard for data exchange.

“The way we can have a real impact and make life even easier for Brian and his colleagues in this sector is to create a consistent and coherent database which takes both the data coming in, the collar system, and the output, the robot system, and then match input to output,” says researcher Ivan Andonovic.

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Source: this is a synopsis of an article that has been published on Euro News on 6 November 2017. Read the full article.

Parkend Farm @ Euronews Knowledge November 2017

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