Connected agriculture: Beefed-up networking in Brazil
The Bosch Precision Livestock Farming system is an IoT solution project that monitors agricultural and economic parameters such as animals weight to help farmers make decisions on how to manage their great herds.
Red dust blows across the broad and sweltering steppe, and there’s a strong smell in the air, tracing back to forty thousand head of cattle. Fazenda Santa Fé, one of Brazil’s largest cattle farms, is situated far off in the Brazilian state of Goiás, some 400 kilometers southwest of the capital, Brasília. This farm could be key to shaping the future of agriculture, because the Bosch Precision Livestock Farming system is being used here for the first time as a connected agriculture project.
Gustavo Ferro, wearing a light-colored shirt, jeans, and ostrich leather cowboy boots, explains what this entails. “It takes a lot of time to weigh that many cattle. However, it’s decisive to the economic success of a farm to frequently check the animals’ weight, and to be as precise as possible in doing so. And we now offer a solution that does precisely that.” Ferro has been working on the project since spring of 2014 – it now involves around 20 associates, including veterinarians, agronomists, and, of course, engineers from a variety of areas.
“Depending on the breed, cattle should gain up to two kilos a day,” says Ferro. “Up until now, we could only estimate if they actually did.” Weighing all the cattle here posed a considerable challenge, even for experienced farmers. Moreover, adds Ferro, false estimates cost money. “If the breeder sends a bull to slaughter too early, they miss out on the profit that additional weight gain could have brought. If they send it in too late, they’ve spent unnecessary money on feed and care.”
Bosch Precision Livestock Farming
By the way…
In-house and independent veterinarians thoroughly tested the Bosch solution to ensure it supports animal welfare.
That’s all coming to an end at Fazenda Santa Fé – at least, in the plots that have already been fitted with the Bosch system. The water trough is placed in one corner of these plots, and the feed is placed in another. A fence separates the two. There’s only one path between them, and a scale is installed there. Each time a bull walks over it, it’s weighed. A reader over the scale detects each bull individually; an RFID transponder is placed in each one’s ear. Sensor signals are processed and linked in a gray box on the scale. The energy to power this comes from an integrated solar panel, and the signals are transmitted to the farm management via antenna, without requiring the Internet.
Gustavo Ferro, who is descended from a family of Brazilian farmers himself and whose grandfather herded bulls through his village with a cane, is already setting his sights far beyond Santa Fé. “In Brazil alone there are almost 200 million bulls, there are around 50 million in Argentina, and in the United States, there are twice as many as that. The market is massive.” Ferro isn’t just thinking about business; he’s also considering the discourse regarding the environmental consequences of rearing cattle. “The Precision Livestock Farming system will boost farm productivity. That means individual bulls will probably require less feed and land.”
Connected agriculture means more data, more efficiency
The heavy bulls at Santa Fé, some of which are swaybacked, have now trampled over the Bosch scale 3.3 million times. “The reliability is incredible,” says Frederico Rosseto, livestock director at the Santa Fé feedlot. “The system also works perfectly when it’s raining or when the mud is ankle-deep.” He and his colleagues spent months fine-tuning hardware, changing components, and exchanging materials. They did some of this at the Bosch regional quarters in Campinas, and some out in the field, “always in close cooperation with future users,” says Ferro. The unsuspecting bulls at Santa Fé embody the Bosch 3S strategy: sensors, software, and services, all networked together. Additional success factors include “an agile approach, design thinking, and a willingness to get our hands dirty.”
The team now views the data pouring in, which may also influence the next generation of algorithms. “We expect that we’ll continually improve our understanding of how the individual factors in cattle fattening relate to one another, from the weather, to the feed composition, to the number of animals per plot, and so on and so forth,” says Ferro. “This will continually increase the benefits for our customers. And the strain on the environment will also be reduced as efficiency increases.”
The cattle net
- Precision livestock farming increases ranches’ productivity
- Sensor system records animal’s weight and relays it to the rancher
- Lower environmental impact, greater customer benefit
From cultivating olives in Andalusia to harvesting oysters in Australia to growing asparagus in Germany, Bosch is incorporating agriculture into the Internet of Things. Ferro, a farmer’s son and an industrial engineer who worked for many years in entirely different areas in Germany, is excited about the new business fields – as well as his return to his own roots. “I never thought that I’d work with cattle at Bosch, or that we’d develop a solution that could shape the industry, no less. That’s a huge motivation for me.” And he’s doesn’t mind having to clean off his boots in the evenings after work, either.
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