Tech start-ups ready to solve major issues in dairy

AgriTech Capital

Key take-aways from unique online pitch event during WDE week

Lack of skilled labor, losses from mastitis and tight margins. These are some of the challenges that dairy farmers face today. A large number of dairy tech start-ups could hold the answer to these problems and shared their innovative solutions at the first-ever Global Dairy Tech Start-up Spotlight on October 1st. 

While the global dairy industry would normally be meeting in Madison, Wisconsin this week for World Dairy Expo (WDE), dairy farmers and dairy professionals gathered online instead. On October 1st, the first Global Dairy Tech Start-up Spotlight informed dairy farmers and the dairy industry about the latest dairy technologies during ten short presentations from exciting and promising dairy tech start-ups.

Aidan Connolly, CEO of AgriTech Capital, organiser and moderator of the event opened the event by addressing that, because of the global pandemic, it is more difficult for companies and advisors to visit farms to inform farmers about the latest technologies. “This is why we put together a tremendous online event, endorsed by the World Dairy Expo (WDE), to give tech companies a chance to inform farmers, now that the 2020 edition of WDE is unfortunately cancelled”, Connolly shared with the viewers.





10 start-ups on the virtual stage 

The companies participating in the first-ever Global Dairy Tech Start-up Spotlight were Advanced Animal Diagnostics, Cainthus, EIO Diagnostics, Fyto, Labby, Livestock Water Recycling, Milc group, PharmRobotics, SomaDetect and Zisk. Lack of skilled labor, losses from mastitis, inefficient feeding and breeding protocols and tight margins came back multiple times in the start-up pitches, which confirmed the need for savvy technologies to target these challenges.

Savvy mastitis prevention

Tim Griswold from Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD) addressed the need to better detect subclinical mastitis in dairy cows. AAD developed a rapid on-farm test kit called QScout MLD, that delivers a clear positive or negative quarter-level diagnosis that is reliable – and actionable. “With our technology, dairy farmers know which cows and which quarters of the udder are infected. This improves the treatment protocol and can reduce antibiotics use”.
Tamara Leigh, CEO of EIO Diagnostics explained their new look at udder health. “We use a multispectral sensor installed at the entrance of the milk parlor to capture an image of the udder as the animal enters. The sensor detects the early indications of inflammation in the udder. These are mainly increases in temperature, but also change of shape and swelling in the udder. This means we can check for mastitis without touching the cow or milk. The technology, called The FirstLook Mastitis system, is costing the dairy farmer 1 dollar per cow per month and claims to save 160 dollar per cow per year.

 Labby provides a rapid, low-cost, lab-quality milk testing solution to be used on the farm. It gives milk composition and quality information, including milk fat, protein and somatic cell count (SCC), using advanced mobile spectroscopy and AI. Julia Somerdin, CEO of the company explained: “Farmers get paid for milk yield, components and quality. An affordable and automated milk testing solution to get the quality right is therefore key, as our solution is very accurate on SCC counts. Testing the milk on-farm, allows farmers to make better decisions on a day to day basis and can help in cow selection processes”.

Solving labor issues

Milc group is a 3-year old start-up offering cloud based solutions that has launched 3 major products to the market already. One of them is the exciting solution called train trac™, an employee training platform for dairies. “This is a great tool to solve lack of training on dairies. Train trac™ is a program that stores, delivers and tracks all the training of farm employees. Milc group is also working on a platform ‘One’ that houses data on feed, facilities (sensors). Over time we will have herd management and people management and finance added as well”, Raffael Lichdi, director sales and marketing explained. All the products are subscription based and are up and running in less than a day (within hours).

Alika Chuck, CFO and co-founder of Pharm Robotics explained the benefits of Sureshot™, an automated injection system for the herd. “This automated system eliminates the need for a labor force when delivering vaccines or reproductive products. And above all, shots are delivered at a 100% compliance ratem we increase animal health and we gather essential data that we can use for further optimization of the farm”, explained Chuck. This technology can save dairy farmers up to 85 dollars per cow per year on labor costs and an additional 200 dollars because of improved health.

Breeding optimization

Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect presented an interesting new way to detect pregnancy in cows. “‘Our mission is to make better milk, improve reproductive issues and animal health”. SomaDetect has developed a pregnancy detection and monitoring tool by using sensors in the milk line. “This data on pregnancy level helps the farmer to know if the cow is pregnant or open, as early embryonic losses are often not noticed, to determine the moment to breed her and to reduce the days open. This new monitoring tool can reduce time on pregnancy confirmation, keeping cows doing what they do best: lying down, ruminating, resting and producing milk”.

Steppin up feed efficiency 

Tyler Bramble, Portfolio Growth Lead at Cainthus, explained to the viewers how cameras and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can optimize feeding management. “Our latest technology is ALUS Nutrition that allows the producer to input their unique feed management plan or create a new one. Once details are input, ALUS Nutrition will then passively monitor events like feed deliveries, push-ups and clean-outs and track those movements relative to the desired schedule”. ALUS Nutrition is market ready and Cainthus has already installed its technology on several major farms in the U.S. Bramble said that Cainthus will soon release ALUS Behavior. It ensures that cows are displaying the behavior patterns that result in maximum milk production and greater revenue for producers. This bespoke technology aims at providing a 24 hour cow time budget. Key features of this October’s release are lying time, time out of pen as well as a cow comfort index.

Jason Prapas from the start-up company Fyto shared his view on improving the way we feed our livestock. “Nutrition is very important for dairy cows and directly impacts health, productivity, profitability and sustainability. But it can also be costly. What if we can reinvent the way we grow and feed and forage crops. In other words: can we produce feed and forage crops for dairy cows with less water, less labor, less fertilizer, less land and less headaches”, Prapas questioned. He thinks it is possible by the use of aquatic plants, allowing for a stable supply, all year round for a reasonable price.





Smart farm and manure management

Founder, veterinarian and nutritionist Kevin Hoogendoorn from Zisk presented an interesting app to determine the farm’s financial future. The Zisk app calculates the farm’s profits for the next 12 months and shows daily trends, based on market data. Market watch page shows prices of corn and soybean meal and milk. You can also ask the app to watch the market for you, by setting a custom alert. The Zisk app also includes a news section with the latest dairy articles.

Moving on to manure and water recycling with Karen Schuett, founder of Livestock Water Recycling (LWR). Schuett explained in her 5-minute pitch the process. “Our patented process technology uses both mechanical and chemical treatments to remove manure contaminants and segregate valuable fertilizer nutrients at large livestock operations. As the manure effluent flows through the process, solids are sequentially removed. The result is valuable segregated fertilizer nutrients and clean water that can be reused around the barns. With our technology we can recycle up to 75% of water that is lost in the manure lagoons”, Schuett explained.

Key learnings from the Panel discussion
The pitches were followed by an in-depth discussion featuring Jeffrey Bewley, Marcia Endres from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Joao H.C. Costa from the University of Kentucky, who shared their thoughts on the current technologies and how the ‘farm of the future’ could look like.

“Adapt, take part and communicate with peers”

Jeffrey Bewley: “My main take-aways of this event is that the farmers who are successful today are the ones that are always adopting and looking for new opportunities. If you are not moving forward you are falling behind. Successful dairy producers always need to keep an eye on new technologies and be part of the process. It can be scary of being the first adopter of a technology. But communicate with other dairy producers about their experiences with new technologies and learn from everyone involved in the tech revolution, from stat-ups to universities and large established livestock companies”.

“Validation and ROI of new technologies are key”

Marcia Endres sees a lot of benefits in technologies and automation of manual processes on a dairy farm such as feeding and milking. “The role of the human farmer will be different in the future and technology and automation will not replace the human. It will be a successful team – or partnership – on the farm. On top of the validation and the return on investment, it is really important that the technology is backed up by excellent support and service from the supplier to help the farmers with a smooth integration of the technology on their farm”.

“Potential for further automation of processes and decisions”

Joao Costa’s key take-aways are that new technologies can help farmers deal with labor issues and reduce the pressure of manual labor for routine practices on the farm. “But technologies can also help in making better decisions. The challenges and standards are getting more complex each day. We simply need more automated data to make decisions, as we cannot rely only on human management to make important decisions for the dairy operations. As more people are leaving the dairy business we are simply losing the know-how and the experience. So I believe in automation of labor intensive processes, but also automation of decisions. I am very hopeful of the future, but looking at all the technologies that are available already and will hit the market in the near future, I am positive that we can deal with the big challenges such as labor and farm profitability, Costa concluded.

You can re-watch the full event, including the ten individual pitches of the start-ups here: https://www.dairystartupspotlight.com/livestream/

Established by Aidan Connolly in North Carolina in 2018, AgriTech Capital is a resource for new and established companies working at the interface of agriculture and technology. AgriTech Capital has aided governments, fortune 500 food companies and large agri-businesses on their AgTech strategy while also helping 12 start-ups finance and design their sales and marketing strategies. These companies have since launched new products, expanded across the globe, raised millions of dollars in capital, and moved from concept to profitable.  Connolly also contributes to a wide range of publications in agriculture and business, including Forbes.

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