It was late December of 2019 that I recall first hearing about a strange new sickness that was sweeping across parts of Asia; it was just after Christmas, in the lull between the Christmas rush and New Year, and initially, as you probably recall, at this early stage the official position from authorities was that concern was relatively low and the risk was contained.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later at the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE - the World’s largest poultry trade show) that I ominously noted the number of empty booths - empty because they were previously booked by Asian headquartered exhibitors who had canceled their travel plans - that I realized that COVID-19 might be a bigger deal than anyone was talking about.
Two long years later, it would appear that the virus which led governments to shut down the world, is finally beginning to loosen its grasp. As viruses generally tend to do to maximize their longevity; over time, COVID-19 has grown less dangerous, but more virulent. Though there are still dangers associated with those who are at risk, it would appear that we have reached a point where we are able to collectively agree: it’s time for life to continue.
Though the lifting of lockdowns and endless restrictions has also delivered a huge sense of relief, there’s also a realization that the continuation of life will be fraught with its own set of challenges resulting from the disruption of our complex and finely tuned systems which have become increasingly globalized over the past number of decades.
Rampant money-printing and mass shut-downs of industry and infrastructure responsible for delivering goods to the places where those goods are needed has left us with quite a mess to manage; with goods in short supply, the systems designed to transport them struggling, and inflation on the rise. To top it all off, labour shortages are making the path to recovery that much more challenging.
"Historically, when humanity faces challenges, innovation has, again and again, provided a path forward to overcome the challenges."
Agriculture, traditionally one of the more resilient industries during periods of economic uncertainty, has not been immune. As I talk to BinSentry’s customers in feed and livestock production, I hear about many of the same challenges: high cost and scarce availability of commodities (grains and feed additives), rising fuel costs (to transport feed and livestock), and availability of labour to get the work done!
The good news is: there is reason for hope! It’s often been said that in hard times, innovation thrives. Historically, when humanity faces challenges, innovation has, again and again, provided a path forward to overcome the challenges. I believe that technology can again help us to navigate through the days ahead but it’s going to take close collaboration from all stakeholders.
One of the newer challenges facing Agriculture - present pre-pandemic but accelerated in recent years - is the challenge of labour shortages. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, it was already hard to find good labour for entry-level jobs on farms, or good drivers to staff feed delivery vehicles, now it’s become even more difficult to fill these positions. They’re not glamorous jobs, but they’re critical to ensuring the ongoing, uninterrupted production of the food that sustains us. Regardless of the reasons why these shortages have become more prevalent, they’re unquestionably creating challenges for our customers who are working tirelessly (and often thanklessly) to keep animals growing and grocery store coolers stocked with food.
I believe that automation is the answer, at least in part.
Though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that raising livestock is a few parts science and many parts an art, I do believe that there are technologies that can be introduced to reduce our dependence on the human senses and human hands that we rely so heavily upon today. When I founded BinSentry, I often remarked to our earliest customers that my dream was not for our technology to replace humans, but instead to supplement them; to make them more efficient, to make their jobs more enjoyable by eliminating the tasks from their day-to-day routines that were tedious and error-prone.
Our Sensus feed bin monitoring technology took away the mundane and often forgotten task of pounding on the side of a feed bin with a mallet to try to guess at how much was inside, or in other cases, prevented someone from having to make the dangerous climb up a bin to estimate the feed level inside (a remarkably difficult thing to do by the way, if you’ve never tried it!) This simple achievement of ensuring the delivery of accurate, timely data made it to the monitor of the person at the mill responsible for planning feed schedules, made lives better for our customers and eliminated the dependence on human labour (to do the task), human senses (to roughly estimate the feed level) and human time (to remember to do the task in the first place and ultimately to transfer the information back to the mill).
We undoubtedly make the process of determining feed levels easier, more accurate, more timely and less dangerous, but the best part is, if our customers can reduce their feed waste by even a small percentage, the cost of BinSentry technology pays for itself: a perfect example of an innovative technology solving labour-related, real-world challenges.
"Raising livestock is a few parts science and many parts an art, I do believe that there are technologies that can be introduced to reduce our dependence on the human senses and human hands that we rely so heavily upon today."
All over our modern-day farms, there are opportunities to supplement the humans who perform the complex art of animal husbandry. Our friends at SwineTech are reducing mortality rates of piglets by listening for stress-sounds piglets make when they’re in distress. Other companies, like BarnTools, are giving more insight into the environment inside of a barn to better optimize for animal growth and comfort. From robots roaming barns to stimulate greater production, like the T-Moov from Tibot, to robots roaming barns to weigh livestock, we can see innovation designed to supplement human labour.
As these types of innovations are adopted, clear competitive advantages can be realized by those companies who adopt these technologies first. The goal is a more seamless, interconnected workflow which leans on technology (where it makes sense) to enable the greatest level of efficiency. At BinSentry, we’ve made this digital transformation our mission; we call it building the “Feed Mill of the Future” and we’re bringing this vision into reality via a combination of sensors paired with powerful software tools, designed specifically for mills.
Labour shortages are the issue of the here and now, but with food supply issues looming, commodity prices on the rise and sustainability at the top of everyone’s mind, there’s never been a better time to think about adopting future forward technologies. It’s going to be those of us in Agriculture who will be called upon to lead the world through the next set of global challenges, and partnerships between researchers, industry partners and innovators will be the way that this progress happens. This is how BinSentry was founded and it’s at the heart of who we are today. Our customers don’t just buy a technology, they invest in a partnership, where BinSentry provides the tools, data and training to drive efficiency while learning from our partners about how we can be building more tools to solve the next adjacent pain point preventing optimization. In essence, our customers gain access to a well-funded innovation engine and we gain access to a partner who can perfectly direct our innovation - a mutually beneficial relationship.
I’m a transplant into the agricultural world, but there are two things that have always stood out to me about the incredible people in Ag - first witnessed in my younger days watching my grandfather wake at the crack of dawn day after day to manage his dairy farm:
1. There’s not a challenge that they’re not willing to face with a lot of hard work and a little creativity.
2. Working together and watching out for each other is a core value.
Guided by these principles we can collectively overcome the challenges ahead. The experts; with decades of experience, contributing their deep wealth of knowledge and the innovators; bringing a new and exciting technology toolset to the equation, a new ally eager to join the charge!
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