Posted 12 June
“The last four or five years, we’re seeing large amounts of data on farm, and again, it really is helping to improve the efficiency of production, it’s improving animal welfare – so we are seeing all these benefits, and farmers really are starting to come on board. This is the future of farming.”
A project using artificial intelligence to monitor dairy cows at Harper Adams University has featured in a focus on the future of farming on BBC One’s Countryfile.
The University’s Professor of Applied Animal Behaviour, Mark Rutter, spoke to presenter Adam Henson about the research and its potential applications on the Sunday, June 11 episode of the programme.
He told Adam: “Rather than having individual sensors on cows, so we can detect when they are in oestrus or monitor their health, a different approach is that we can have all these cameras, giving us a great top-down view of the cows.
“The cameras are using artificial intelligence and machine vision, so we can identify individual cows, we can also look at their behaviours and work out exactly what they are doing.”
The project is a collaboration between both Harper Adams University and the University of Nottingham, as well as experts at Stirling-based electronics and automation engineering consultancy and research incubator, Peacock Technology.
Using the latest artificial intelligence, computer and machine-vision and data-driven biology, the project team - including Professor Rutter - are automatically monitoring cow health in commercial dairies, such as the Harper Adams University Smart Dairy.
Adam told viewers: “AI learns to recognise each individual cow and logs their behaviour such as their eating and their milking efficiency. It can then analyse the data, to warn of possible signs of illness.”
And Professor Rutter added: “It’s really taking off.
“The last four or five years, we’re seeing large amounts of data on farm, and again, it really is helping to improve the efficiency of production, it’s improving animal welfare – so we are seeing all these benefits, and farmers really are starting to come on board.
“This is the future of farming.”
Every cow in the herds monitored is individually tracked through camera systems such as those which Adam saw, which then which feed into an AI network.
The solutions developed for the project – funded through Innovate UK, the UK Government’s Innovation Agency - should become commercial products or data processing or consultancy services that can be marketed to other livestock farms in the UK and worldwide.
Summing his visit up for viewers, Adam added: “My dad started milking cows by hand, and my first tractor had no cab, manual gears and would now be considered a collector’s piece – and I’m not even that old!
“With these projects going on up and down the country, the changing face of farming is happening far quicker than I ever imagined.
“Whatever the future of farming holds, it’s safe to say technology is going to play a big role.”