Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pasture management made smarter with AI

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Agritech comes in many forms – but the simpler, the better says an early triallist of a promising new app
Kairanga farmer Shane True with a pasture meter, used to take measurements of pasture condition that go into the Aimer tool. Photos: Gerry le Roux/Sciencelens
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Shane True has been one of the early triallists for Aimer software, an AI-driven digital assistant and operating system developed by agritech start-up Aimer Farming, led by Hamilton agri data whiz Jeremy Bryant.

The firm recently received a welcome investment boost from the agri-food tech investment company Sprout. 

The relationship promises to enable the two-year-old company to reach its full potential by establishing a governance board and connecting Bryant more quickly with other potential partners.

As for True, he already has a raft of technology on the farm, including variable irrigation, wearable cow technology and an automated EID weighing system, all generating multiple data points off his 650-cow herd. 

Having learnt about Aimer through a Facebook group appeal seeking early stage triallists, True says his eye was caught by the software’s “pasture-focused” approach, backed by AI learning systems.

“The ability of the AI to ‘learn’ your farm’s pasture growth patterns, and its ability to give you feedback and some management input on what you could do to address a situation, that had a lot of appeal to me,” True says.

For example, he says, the system will calculate – based on cow numbers, pasture cover and growth rates – whether the farm is moving into a surplus or deficit, and suggest what paddocks to drop out of rotation, or how much additional supplement may be required.

“All the time the AI is learning and building on the data to help with predictions in coming years. I felt this was a good idea.”

In recent years True has measured the pasture dry matter on hand using a calibrated measuring trailer towed behind a farm quad bike.

“But you still have that challenge with a junior staff member, once they have gathered all that information, what can they do with it, how do they process it into something useful? With Aimer, that staff member has the AI alongside them, helping out with advice.”

True says he also appreciates the app’s ability to monitor accumulated growth rates for individual paddocks over the course of the farming season, giving granular detail on each  paddock’s growing ability.

“You could assign each paddock a different species, say an annual versus a perennial ryegrass, and you could track the amount they each grow. It is a good tool for tracking which paddocks should be re-grassed each year, and it often confirms what you may have already thought.”

He appreciates the one-on-one interaction with Bryant.

“There are a lot of people trying to build solutions in agritech, but at times I feel like they build their product, and only then take it to the farmer, missing out on their input at that early stage.”

Shane True runs the data back in the office.

True is no stranger to the farm software apps that Sprout has been involved with before. 

He uses the Knowby app, which enables him to upload images and video for standard operating practices on the farm. It can generate a QR code that can be placed in the relevant procedure spot for staff to scan, and confirm how to operate equipment safely and proficiently.

True says he is excited by the potential union of smartphone camera optics and an AI system like Aimer as Aimer Farming is also working on a technology to scan paddocks and get an immediate assessment of dry matter level.

He sees that this will significantly save time and be far more convenient for farmers. It could provide real-time feed status levels, with powerful predictive estimates updated every time a paddock is visually assessed.

For True, Aimer is also a vital means to attracting and keeping young staff in a tight labour market.

“If you can teach someone who is green, straight out of town, I look at how long would it take them to be better than me as pasture management.”

Bryant says the decision by Sprout to invest in Aimer came after the firm participated in Sprout’s Accelerator programme. This included having a mentor appointed, in the form of Dean Tilyard, a venture partner in Finistere Ventures, specialists in seed-stage agritech funding.

Jeremy Bryant and Shane True check Aimer’s software in the field.

“Dean challenged our assumptions and pushed us to think bigger and gave me confidence we had something we could offer investors.” 

As someone whose focus was more on data and analysis, Bryant also learnt the value of developing a good pitch to take to potential investors.

“Sprout’s involvement has also meant I could go full time and appoint the people with the skills in development we needed,” he says.

The full commercial launch of Aimer is booked for this year’s Mystery Creek Fieldays.

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