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Internet of Things: Precision broiler production

Cargill inks deal to bring high tech data capture and analytics to chicken farmers.


October 7, 2021
By Madeleine Baerg

Topics
The Compass system Cargill is rolling out is a monitoring, management and modelling platform that collects and analyzes real-time broiler barn data. Photo: Intelia

This summer, Cargill Foods and Canadian technology company Intelia finalized a partnership agreement to distribute Intelia’s Compass broiler precision management platform to broiler producers in both the U.S. and Canada. 

“The whole concept of precision livestock is a huge area of opportunity,” says Robbie Moody, the commercial director of poultry for livestock nutrition supplier Provimi, a subsidiary of Cargill. “If you look at what’s been done on the crop side of agriculture with more precision approaches, it’s huge. We’re looking forward to bringing that to broiler producers.”

Compass is a monitoring, management and modelling platform that collects and analyzes real-time broiler barn data. The system uses broiler barn sensors, including bin scales, hanging perch scales, water meters, gas (ammonia and C02) sensors, humidity sensors and more, to record key metrics of bird health and growth. 

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The data is then analyzed by Intelia’s fully integrated artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to generate real-time predictions and management efficiencies. For example, by tracking exact feed usage, the AI system can automatically predict the precise timing bins will need refilling. By analyzing changes in bird behaviour such as water consumption rates, the system can warn of potential health concerns before they are clinically obvious. 

And – arguably the most valuable advantage – the system can use the real-time, specific growth curve of an individual broiler barn, factoring in historic growth curves of previous flocks raised in the same barn, to determine the exact date and time birds will get to specific target weights. 

An overweight bird consumes unnecessary feed. An underweight bird costs yield and may not meet a processor’s requirements. Compass’ predictive analysis will allow farmers, processors and feed companies to optimize production efficiencies, from food usage, to transport booking, to every component of processing, based on more accurately achieving ideal weights at processing. 

“When applied in a broiler complex, Compass can help maximize bird health and well-being, operational performance, efficiency, even sustainability by turning data into useful insights,” Moody says. 

Privacy concerns
The data collected on a farm belongs to that producer. As such, the producer would have full control over the usage of any data captured by Compass. 

That said, there are efficiencies and advantages to sharing real-time data to other partners: veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies that can act on health flags; feed companies who can automatically expedite feed deliveries; processors who can arrange transportation; and processing times precisely aligned with bird readiness predictions.  

Admittedly, some producers will steer clear of this kind of technology for fear of others’ eyes on their data. 

“The ‘big brother is watching you’ idea is going to be out there, and some people will probably stay away because of it. Unfortunately, they’ll miss out on a lot of opportunity to get better because of it,” Moody says. 

Shared successes
“We need to debunk the theory that it is producers against the rest of the value chain,” adds Caroline Forest, vice president of sales and marketing with Intelia. “The whole chain is interdependent. The success of one is the success of all, and everybody is on the same team. By collaborating with data sharing, everyone is more efficient. When everyone is more efficient, everyone makes more money.”

She points to an example of a processor with a customer who requires a very specific weight of processed bird. Predicting weight can be extremely challenging, even for a highly experienced producer. The Compass system allows a producer to set a desired weight and have the data prediction tools tell them the to-the-hour optimized time for transport and pick-up.  

Consequently, the producer can capture a premium for shipping birds of exactly the right weight. The transporter can optimize their shipping schedule because they know in advance exactly what’s needed. The processor can save costs on extra cutting, and can be rewarded with a premium from the customer too. 

Valuable data
Of course, while data capture and sharing has key on-farm benefits for producers, the biggest beneficiary of data collection is the feed supplier and the processor. Saving $0.01/bird is good news for a producer with a barn of 35,000 birds. Saving $0.01/bird is great news for, say, Cargill’s London, Ontario plant, which processes 80,000 birds per day. 

For exactly that reason, Forest advises that producers ensure they don’t give away their data for free. 

“Your data has real value. If you share data with a vendor or supplier, make sure you get a specific compensation: a rebate, a privilege; a specific benefit; or a reduced cost to access a specific service or product,” she says. 

Early stages
Because the partnership with Cargill was only inked very recently, Moody doesn’t yet know exactly when Cargill will begin offering Compass to producers, nor exactly what form incentives or partnership might take. 

Already, Compass is installed in hundreds of broiler barns, some because individual farmers have seen the advantage and invested privately; others because processors or feed mills are installing at a larger scale. 

“We’re at the early adopter stage. I’d compare it to 10 or 12 years ago when the same kinds of digital solutions came upon the cash crop market,” Forest says. “Nowadays, just try to find a soybean producer who isn’t using some kind of digital solution: it’s almost impossible. They gained in efficiency; they gained in yield; they gained in cost savings. From a farming and sustainability standpoint, it made sense; it just had to be proven.”

While Forest says she doesn’t think Compass or similar technologies will be mainstream by next year, she says there’s no question that this form of data collection and sharing is the future. 

“This is what we need to produce more chickens without more resources. If we’re able to make the current system more productive, that’s one step towards a more sustainable industry.”