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Data driving up performance in broiler production

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

Poultry farmer Peter Mason, farm manager of Uphouse Farm Ltd., is a big believer in precision farming, taking a data-driven approach to improving performance across the farm’s broiler business. This includes live monitoring of key performance metrics such as FCR, live weight gain and daily feed/water intake per bird. Peter was on the farmer panel at REAP 2022. Ahead of the conference we asked him more about the operation at Uphouse Farm.

“We are an 840,000-bird site spread across two farms, both running the higher welfare, in-house hatching ‘Nestborn’ system. We have two great teams of stockmen who are all dedicated to achieving the highest welfare and performance from our birds. The technology we have installed in the sheds gives them a great platform on which to achieve this, and allows us to collect daily performance data and analyse it. If there is a drop in performance, we analyse the information to try and understand the cause.

“For each shed there is an interface that provides a summary of key information, such as numbers of birds remaining in the shed, how much they are eating and drinking, humidity, temperature, lighting pattern and much more. This data then entered each day into a spreadsheet and compared against target performance.

“Attention to detail is crucial for us; if you think about even one drinker line or pan line at the wrong height, this can impact the performance of thousands of birds in each shed. If you then multiply this up over seven and a half flocks per year, across two farms, that will have a significant impact on bird performance.

“The farm also has a 2.2MWh biomass plant, burning our own chicken manure, producing sustainable heat for our own sheds via process called Fluidised Bed Combustion. This produces a drier heat, which reduces the levels of CO, CO2 and ammonia compared to using LPG, consequently creating a much healthier environment for the birds. As well as using around half of our manure produced annually to heat the sheds, a lot goes into our arable operation, which makes the farm cyclical in nature – which is great from a sustainability point of view.

Challenges

“Broiler farming is a high-input high-output business. Soaring input costs and ever-increasing pressure for environmental sustainability are two huge talking points in our industry. Feed is our largest input, making up around 70% of the cost of each flock, simultaneously being responsible for around 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in the poultry sector. That makes our FCRs one the biggest driver of both economic and environmental sustainability.

“The continued adoption of emerging technologies combined with continued analysis of big data will have a huge part to play here, as they will help deliver new efficiencies and continuous improvement around this key metric.”

“Beyond feed, one of the biggest inputs is electricity, and these costs have gone up 165% in the last eight months, which has been a real kicker. For context, across the farm in the height of summer, we have 384 fans that need powering to ensure our birds have an optimal environment in the sheds. We do have 600 KWh of ground and roof mounted solar, but that doesn’t get close to covering our parasitic load.

“We are always looking for new technologies to improve our energy efficiencies, and have commissioned an energy audit to help us do that. I would love to ideally take the farm off-grid, making us self-sustainable, but the only way I can see this happening at present would be to invest in an AD (anaerobic digestion) plant or install battery storage technology when that becomes available.

“Even with ever improving technology, the main issue is large-scale energy generation is an enterprise in itself. The farm already has a full-time heating and farm engineer managing the three biomass boilers, and an AD plant would take significant input of time. However, with the ever-increasing cost of electricity, this is something the business has to consider.

Summary

“I am excited about the potential of data-led and data-driven decision making for the poultry industry and think we can do more in terms of using the data available. Collaboration is key to achieve higher efficiency in our sector and I believe we have a lot to learn from each other.

“At the end of the day, I am a farmer, not a data analyst. We have access to a huge amount of data, and I would like to be able to analyse this in more depth to understand better what we need to change and then see that applied in practice.”

St Louis to meet Agri-TechE community with an innovation shopping list

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Optimising breeding, AI, modelling and predictive analytics, non-invasive testing, traceability and food safety, detecting residues, and novel crop chemistries – all are on the shopping list of technologies of interest to the agri-tech community in St Louis, Missouri.

The list has been developed by GlobalSTL, an initiative of BioSTL, ahead of a visit to Cambridge on 22nd June to meet with the Agri-TechE innovation ecosystem. The list represents the innovation priorities of St. Louis based Ag-Food corporations.

Deepening relationship

The mission has been organised by the World Trade Center St. Louis and Greater St. Louis Inc. and builds on the deepening relationship it has with Agri-TechE.

Dr Belinda Clarke Director of Agri-TechE says: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to renew our conversations with BioSTL, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Bayer U.S. Crop Science and to meet others in the community that are new to us.”

Delegates will be welcomed to Cambridge by Rt Hon Daniel Zeichner, Member of Parliament for Cambridge, who welcomes the visit as it plays to the strength of the region.

He says “A multi-disciplinary approach is highly beneficial for problem-solving; the Cambridge ecosystem has a wide and diverse range of strengths including deep tech, AI, med-tech, genomics, engineering and agri-tech.

“By framing agricultural challenges to ensure they are accessible to technologists in different sectors, Agri-TechE is harnessing these strengths very effectively”.

Daniel Zeichner MP (CC BY 3.0)

Tim Nowak, Executive Director of the World Trade Center St. Louis, comments: “The St. Louis delegation is especially excited to travel to Cambridge on Thursday, June 22nd to reconnect with our friends at Agri-TechE and meet Minister Zeichner.

“This is a unique opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders and identify new innovative solutions to some of the ag-tech and food challenges in our respective communities.”

Introductions to the US market

The event, which is open to both members and non-members of Agri-TechE, will facilitate meetings with the St. Louis delegation to investigate the opportunities for Open Innovation and create soft introductions to the US market.

Dr. Clarke says that a ‘shopping list for innovation’ highlights the need for diverse technologies to meet agri-food challenges: “The need to increase efficiencies, reduce environmental impacts, enhance the nutritional content of food and improve traceability and authentication of production is common to both our geographies. A meeting of minds will help develop the technologies required to become fit for market.

“Technology companies need to scale quickly to gain critical mass, and creating connections to enable a soft-landing in an agri-tech cluster like St Louis is invaluable.”

The delegation also includes the investment community, with organisations such as Yield Lab Europe, which already has a number of UK agri-tech start-ups like Glaia, Rootwave, Spotta and Sencrop in its portfolio.

In addition, the St. Louis plant science community offers insights into other crops that might be accessible to UK farmers, such as soy. Benson Hill has combined machine learning with predictive breeding and environmental modelling algorithms to develop an ultra-high protein soybean variety that can tolerate a range of growing conditions. This crop exemplifies how technologies are converging within agri-tech to provide new solutions.

The delegation will also attend a number of meetings in London and the visit is timed to take in the 2023 Major-League Baseball London Series which sees a face-off between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs in a two-game series.

To take part please visit our events page.

Harvesting robots need to select ripe fruit. Agri-TechE member Cambridge Consultants has specialist expertise in automating tasks that are ‘semi-structured’, ie clearly defined yet not purely repetitive. Image copyright Cambridge Consultants