REMOTE monitoring gear is booming in beef operations as producers chase the best investment opportunities for record cattle returns against a backdrop of severe labour shortages.
Technologies like smart ear tags and wireless trough sensors, which replace labour-intensive jobs with equipment that doesn't require a massive initial or ongoing outlay, are being snapped up.
The fact these technologies are now a few years down the track and proving they are worth their salt has combined perfectly with the current economic climate on farms to see their growth skyrocket.
In turn, the Australian companies behind the technologies are notching up phenomenal growth patterns and expanding globally.
Since its commercial launch less than a year ago at Beef Australia in Rockhampton, Ceres Tags are now being exported to 19 countries.
Over the next few months, the company is expected to run one of the largest ever agtech capital raisings in Australia to allow for further international expansion, including the opening of an office in the United States.
It was a rancher from Montana who made the first e-commerce purchase of Ceres Tags on launch day last May.
A solar-powered device that enables livestock owners anywhere around the world to capture real time information on their stock without being on-the-spot, the Ceres system is the world's first animal monitoring information platform with direct-to-satellite capability through a proprietary smart ear tag.
It allows for monitoring of biosecurity, health, welfare, performance, and traceability and provenance of the supply chain network, including theft detection.
An algorithm has been developed utilising the accelerometer in the tag, which samples the pattern of behaviour over a rolling six-day period. The tag is continuously utilising machine learning to update and inform this metric.
It was invented by David and Melita Smith, fifth-generation Queensland cattle producers.
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On the ground
The first cattle operation in Australia to conduct a major trial of the tags, Aileron Station north of Alice Springs, has recorded what the owners describe as excellent results in both herd and pasture management. The tags also provided invaluable monitoring of the movement of cattle during a recent bushfire.
Aileron started with ten tags and moved on to another 90 tagged cattle last year.
The plan is now to increase that to another 200 cattle next quarter through mustering activities.
Owner Craig Astill said the search began a few years ago for technologies to better monitor, manage and appreciate what was going on across the remote property.
"The Achilles heel had always been that you couldn't capture information at the source, down to the individual animal level on a daily basis," he said.
"Ultimately, we want to be able to track the whole way through the supply chain, from paddock to plate.
"We scoured the world. Ceres Tags were the only ones that could be used in a remote setting where communications are difficult.
"The data is transmitted directly from the ear of the animal with constant monitoring, via a constellation of low earth orbit satellites.
"This ensures data can be collected and stored securely without the need for any other costly infrastructure such as tower structures. It means we get supplied with information on a life-of-beast basis which is what was the key for us."
Mr Astill said the move had proven a big boost for farm efficiency and management.
"We want to have visibility and transparency and be able to have meaningful data-informed discussions with our station managers. That's one of the key reasons we went down this path - stock loss, stock theft, stock roaming into neighbouring properties - there's cost consequences to all of that."
Remote water monitoring
DESPITE La Nina's strong presence this summer making water at its most available in years, demand for remote monitoring solutions has gone through the roof.
Sales of Farmbot's devices, which allow producers to remotely check water, diesel and trough levels, rainfall, flow and pressure rates and even staff movements via a safety check-in module, hit record levels in December and January.
Once a fringe technology, remote monitoring is fast becoming mainstream, driven by widespread increased understanding of the benefits of knowing the precise water account of a property, according to Farmbot's head of marketing Elizabeth Cameron.
"Summer months have been, in general, peak months for us as they are a time when people are thinking about water, and also trying to get away for holidays. The technology provides time, and peace of mind, that you can't pay for," she said.
"However, this year our sales in January and December doubled to new records.
"Seven years of drought before this current break means people want to put resources into building their resilience going forward. Agtech is cheap insurance."
Farmbot has been in the market for 3.5 years now and in 2022 has big expansion plans across the US. Already, 50 trial monitors are in action with ranchers and an official US launch is in the making.
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