New technology in livestock industries is allowing graziers to collect and use data from their farms to improve productivity and minimise risks.
For years precision agriculture has been dominated by the cropping sector, but livestock producers are increasingly turning to precision technology to drive profitability.
The University of New England’s SMART farm has be set up to showcase the latest on-site technologies that aim to improve productivity, environmental sustainability and safety on Australian farms.
One of the trials showcased at the Northern Tableland Local Land Services Livestock Innovation Forum looked at how optical sensor technology could improve the way farmers measure and manage their pastures.
The handheld pasture sensor measures the colour of the groundcover and amount of biomass on the ground.
That data is then translated into information farmers can use to work out stocking rates.
UNE precision agriculture lecturer Mark Trotter said the aim was to create a quick and accurate way of measuring pasture.
“Knowing how much grass you have available is a critical bit of information if you’re trying to manage your stocking rates to increase productivity,” Mr Trotter said.
“So there are many management decisions based around how much feed there is in a paddock in terms of putting pregnant ewes into a paddock or maintaining a minimum amount of residual feed so you can encourage pasture growth.”
Once this system is operational Dr Trotter said the aim was to have some mapping capabilities to allow producers to map paddocks in terms of variation in pasture in paddocks and then use that to refine fertiliser decisions.
Bringing gaming technology to the yards
Cameras used in video games could potentially change the way live animals and carcases are assessed and valued for meat yield, meat quality and fatness.
Cattle are subjectively assessed and graded by people and the carcasses that don’t meet specifications can receive a discounted price from buyers.
Livestock research officer with NSW DPI Brad Walmsley said helping cattle producers meet the market specifications would improve profitability.
“In two studies done in the last two or three years we’ve found that on average the non-compliance rate for hot standing carcase weight and pH fat is somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent, and in one data set for a long-fed market we actually found the non-compliance rate to a minimum marble score of two was 70 per cent,” Dr Walmsley said.
“(That’s costing) somewhere around $35 dollars per carcase in the data sets and the data sets are around 20,000 animals so $35 for 20,000 animals.”
Dr Walmsley said a simple X Box camera might be a way cattle producers can objectively assess their cattle which could ultimately improve their overall market compliance.
To help graziers accurately and objectively assess carcases for live cattle the DPI is working on a research project to use X Box cameras in the yards to record 3D information on the animals.
“The cameras will reconstruct their image and assess the animals for their live traits such as frame score, muscle score and fat,” Dr Walmsley said.
“By doing that we actually move the trait from being a subjective trait when a person assesses it on the animal and gives a value to actually being an objective trait where it’s done using the cameras.”
“When it’s an objective trait we lose all the inconsistencies that exist between people. If we can link them all together we can have someone assess the cattle in real-time and within an hour they could be on a website and you could have a buyer.”
Farming with big data
When agribusiness giant Monsanto paid a little under $1 billion in 2013 for the Climate Corporation, a company that specialises big data, it put the world on alert that “big data” was the next big thing in agribusiness.
Livestock research officer with NSW Department of Primary Industries Brad Walmsley said around the world agriculture groups were not sure what big data was but everyone thought it was important.
Mr Walmsley said precision agriculture was ultimately “about people and decisions, not data and information”.
Beef and sheep producer Matt Ryan from Sodwells on the Central Tablelands is using data to improve his herd.
“We want to make sure we know what every cow and every bull on our place is doing in terms of their progeny’s performance, in order to do that we have to be able to identify the sire and the dam of the progeny.”
This means when Mr Ryan gets back carcase details he is able to match it up with the bulls and cows to know which animals in the herd are making him the most money.
(Source – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-16/precision-ag-driving-livestock-innovation/6940094)