‘Meating’ the Challenge of Feeding the World With Smart Livestock Farming

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In working towards greater food security, the sustainability of our farming practices takes on a renewed importance. The world’s population is growing, incomes are rising, and meat production quotas are growing – and, with this, the demand on our farmers. According to the WHO, annual meat production is expected to rise to 376 million tonnes by 2030. This means more intensive livestock production systems – often close to city centres – and this comes with environmental and food health considerations.

At its core, sustainability comes down to efficiency. Farmers around the world are looking to smart technologies and precision farming techniques to drive efficiency on many levels. This is having marked effects on animal health, productivity, and environmental load. 

According to Deloitte, livestock production currently uses a third of global arable land and 8% of our fresh water, contributing to 15% of the world’s carbon emissions. The livestock sector is also connected to widespread habitat loss and deforestation. The upward surge in demand will rely heavily on highly efficient, sustainable practices to ensure the continued good quality of meat production and the preservation of resources. They have also reported that, if global warming is to be kept within 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we would only be able to meet 41% of the worldwide meat demand in 2050. With food security in question, farmers around the world are prompted towards smarter strategies. 

Consumers and governments are more committed to sustainability than ever before. Many countries around the world have sustainable development goals and, in the UK, policies like the proposed carbon tax are indicative of an ongoing commitment to environmental concerns.

Along with cheaper meat prices, consumers have started to give more thought to things like animal welfare, traceability, and green concerns around food. With food security called into question during COVID-19, consumers are becoming increasingly driven by the need to buy healthy, sustainably produced food which does as little damage to the environment as possible. 

As smart technologies become more cost-effective and seamlessly integrated into existing herd management systems (or as part of full-farm data monitoring), so livestock production systems are changing. The focus needs to turn to individual animal welfare to protect the wellbeing of the herd. Disease decreases livestock productivity by up to 30% – and this is having a marked effect on productivity and efficiencies. Intensification of meat production may have an effect on this statistic – with more concentrated numbers making disease management even more important for the viability of every animal.

From stock theft and asset protection to animal health monitoring, farmers are empowered to act immediately to undesirable metrics and, over the medium and long term, formulate effective strategies inspired by detailed, consistently collected data.

A key sustainability objective is to protect the health and welfare of animals in agriculture production, and the BVA has acknowledged the role new technologies will play in maintaining high standards of animal wellbeing. Effective smart technologies can provide metrics to vets without expensive call-out fees to enhance the role of vets in sustainable livestock production.

As part of a greater smart farming ecosystem, smart sensors can send through alerts on smoke detection, atmospheric changes, air quality, and a range of other factors which could have a bearing on animal welfare. On the farm and in transit, this has the potential to mitigate losses through early warning.

Tracking has a range of benefits for farmers. Biosecurity is one advantage, but it also increases the chances of recovery for herd management and security. On the health front, observing the movement of cattle can also alert farmers to symptoms of illness like listlessness or collapse in the field – no matter how remote or widely dispersed the herd may be. This is also possible with a greatly reduced reliance on labour.

Ingestible technologies can notify farmers of changes in temperature, giving them actionable data for illness and breeding purposes. These temperature readings often take place before any outward clinical symptoms are observed. This serves to contain disease, reduce mortalities, and maximise breeding productivity.

Transparent food systems are important to consumers. From field to plate, smart technologies have the ability to generate a detailed picture of the entire lifecycle of our food sources. This, in turn, has a beneficial effect on food safety – another area of growing consumer concern (and so an area of potential for marketable advantage).

What can be measured can be more effectively managed – and that is what makes data collection so powerful. Leveraging cloud-based, real-time readings on the granular aspects of farms drives competitiveness, profitability, and production. Smart technologies – like the smart farm solutions, ingestible bolus, and GPS tracking collar available from Smarter Technologies – work together to offer a dynamic view of farming operations – from the field to details of the entire supply chain. 

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