Monday, March 4, 2024

New tech could make weekly farm walks a thing of the past

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Aimer Farming have been working on a new tool that utilises a smartphone camera to read pasture cover.
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By Sam Jaquiery

Farm walks are notoriously time-consuming and demanding, deterring many hardworking farmers from reaping their benefits.

Recognising the opportunity, Jeremy Bryant and the team at Aimer Farming have been working on a new tool, AIMER Vision, that utilises a smartphone camera to read pasture cover.

It was launched in Te Awamutu recently and farms are trialling it across Waikato. In the next phase it will be expanded to read pasture all over New Zealand.

“We want to make the information as accessible as possible to farmers. There’s a lot of value in having pasture data on farm, but the time to do farm walks can be a major barrier for many farmers,” says Bryant, who is Aimer Farming’s founder and chief technology officer.

“We already have AIMER, an artificial intelligence-enabled digital assistant and operating system which speeds that process up, allowing farmers to walk a portion of the farm and derive estimates for the rest, and AIMER Vision drives even more efficiency.”

The new tool has the potential to replace a plate meter and the goal is to eventually link it to a drone to reduce the labour component even further.

“Farm walks can take four to five hours easy and that’s a lot of time out of the week, where utilising AIMER and AIMER Vision could reduce walks to 45 minutes to an hour, which makes it so much easier for a farm to manage.”

Farmers who have been using AIMER shared their experience at the AIMER Vision launch. Among them was Charles Sanson, who looks after two farms near Otorohanga. 

He struggled to fit in his weekly farm walks, which was what attracted him to AIMER in the first place, and he has found the biggest cost saving is the time it has freed up. It has also enhanced his decision-making ability.

“When I do a part farm walk I pick a random selection of paddocks with different growth rates and after the walk, I am able to play out grazing scenarios to see how the feed wedge will look in a couple of weeks so I can make decisions in a timely manner,” Sanson says.

He has been able to use the modelling from AIMER to help him make more accurate decisions with supplement use.

“Going from a pretty tough spring where we didn’t have a lot of grass and fed a lot of supplement, we’re now pulling back the supplement to see how that fits the round length and optimisation score.

“It’s helping make decisions rather than being a little bit off the ball and maybe keeping that supplement going on for a little bit too long.”

Bryant grew up on a dairy farm and sharemilked for three years after school before heading to university, so he knows first-hand how improving pasture intake and quality drives productivity – but also how challenging it can be to collect sufficient data.

“Time is precious, it takes a lot to keep a farm running and most of the tools available were hindsight tools where data is entered and you look back to see where things went wrong,” Bryant says.

“But AIMER saves time and provides foresight into the coming weeks to help farmers decide what to do next.”

It takes four full farm walks to train the tool and from there it can generate pastures estimates from partial walks, saving significant amounts of labour.

It then uses the information and artificial intelligence via models Bryant and the team have built, to identify issues and make plans for the farmer.

It has been designed with the broader farm network in mind and will drive efficiency for farm advisers too. Rather than spending time out on the farm obtaining pasture data, the farmer will already have pasture covers and details about mobs so it shortcuts the conversation and subsequent advice.

Bryant has a PhD in genetics and farm system modelling and several years of experience working in agritech. 

The Aimer development team has expanded to eight and they have begun to take the concept internationally with farms in Australia and Chile already using the tool.

“We’re getting great feedback from farmers. The biggest is the time-saving factor and having grazing and supplement feeding plans automatically generated.

“The tool also provides an optimisation score as average cover can hide a lot of things, which allows farmers to truly understand what is happening in their paddocks.”

On their website there is a tool that farmers can use to estimate the opportunity to increase profits by focusing on pasture management. It breaks it down into increasing pasture eaten, improving pasture quality and reducing labour.

Bryant and the team will evolve the environmental aspects, so rather than simply quantifying methane or nitrogen the tool will provide recommendations that could reduce a farm’s environmental impact.

They are also adapting it for beef farming.

“It’s exciting to see the concept grow. What started as an idea in the back of my mind has now come to life and is helping farmers save a lot of time and drive productivity from a tool they can have in their pocket at all times.”

This article first appeared in the December edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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