7 FEB 2016

Connected Cows

They have been dubbed Fitbits for cows but there is much more to Connecterra’s business than the smart sensors strapped to the herds of its dairy farm clients.

The fuel of the Netherlands-based start-up’s business is the data that the devices, incorporating an accelerometer and GPS, send wirelessly from the field to Connecterra.

If data is the fuel, then the engine of the business is the artificial intelligence (AI) tool Connecterra has built. Its cloud-based predictive analytics offer valuable insights to the farmer who can receive them on any digital device, something the firm’s rivals do not offer, says Yasir Khokhar, the firm’s founder and CEO.

Connecterra can use the data to tell the farmer when a cow is at her most fertile, how healthy she is, how well she is grazing, if she is drinking enough and her location. This saves time, improves animal welfare and milk production and ultimately helps boost profits by optimising breeding cycles.

“With the technology we are making, you can understand what’s going on with any animal at any given time and predict their health issues. The farmer becomes less of a herdsman and more of a technology manager,” says Khokhar.

“The perspective we have is different. We are the only company that has built something of this nature. Anyone else that has an activity monitor is generally using it in a fixed system that does not have any intelligence built into it.

“It is one-size-fits-all and unlike ours doesn't take into account the farmer’s feedback. We can also combine the insights we gather with other data sources like financial data to give them insights into how to make their financials more efficient.”

It is this combination of AI and smart sensing applications that promise to transform agriculture in a revolution that could be as significant a change as the Green Revolution of the mid-20th Century.

“I am interested in looking at the value chain,” says Khokhar. “If you want to create real value you can’t just look at point solutions like oestrus detection for cows or soil moisture monitors. They solve a problem but not the bigger ones of efficiency because they are still making the farmer or user the analyst.”

In 2017 the company expects to be working in at least eight countries and with thousands of cattle, up from just a few hundred in 2016.

- Khokhar

In 2017 the company expects to be working in at least eight countries and with thousands of cattle, up from just a few hundred in 2016. It has already collected the equivalent of 20 ‘cow years’ of data but this will increase rapidly from here, says Khokhar.

The global opportunity is large. Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled precision dairy technologies are currently only being used to monitor around 2.5 million dairy cows out of a total global population of 1.5 billion cattle. Such technology will be sought after as dairy demand is set to increase by 36% by 2024. Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled precision dairy technologies will be sought after as dairy demand is set to increase by 36% by 2024.

“As farm sizes get bigger and farmers get older it becomes a scale problem,” says Khokhar. “If an animal is sick, not eating, has a leg problem or is ready to become pregnant, how do you know? All these things add up to massive inefficiencies in production.

“At the same time we have to find a way of producing more food for a population that is going to be almost double in a few years,” says Khokhar. “There is a desperate need for technology in this area. It is becoming increasingly critical to have precision farming and precision agriculture.”

“It’s hard to quantify how big this market is. Everything is going to be up for grabs in the next five to ten years. What’s happening in AI these days is staggering, just look at the progress being made with self-driving cars.”

“There are huge opportunities if you make an early start,” he says. “One of the main things you need for a good AI strategy is data. As soon as you begin to collect the right type of data you are better placed for survival. It is better to be the disruptor than be disrupted.”

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