Waterford Institute of Technology’s Telecommunication Software and Systems Group (TSSG) was awarded SFI funding in conjunction with Teagasc for a project titled “Using precision technologies, technology platforms and computational biology to increase the economic and environmental sustainability of pasture based production systems (PrecisionDairy)” in a joint venture initiative between Teagasc and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) within the research theme known as ‘Future Agri-Food’. PrecisionDairy focuses on the use of ICT to develop an autonomous system capable of integrating, processing and managing data from diverse sensor environments (e.g. grass, animal) to deliver timely and effective farm management information to the farmers and influence the decision making process.
Precision dairy farming is an inherently interdisciplinary field incorporating concepts from bioinformatics, biostatistics, pasture and animal breeding, animal husbandry and nutrition, machine learning, sensor networking, autonomic network management and engineering. TSSG primarily focuses on the following tasks:
- Development of a universal sensor system (animal wearable collar devices) to measure animal health, activity and location within a grassland farm. Sensor data captured at the farm level would allow fine-grained monitoring of the individual cows.
- Development of an algorithmic framework for sensor-based analytics that allows real-time interpretation of the sensor data. In-network (edge) analytics would allow detection of time-sensitive events as the cows move within the farm and facilitate applications such as virtual fencing that require immediate response.
- Design of a policy logic to allow autonomous management of the on-farm sensor monitoring infrastructure. The policy would simplify control of the system to accommodate specific adjustments in the sensor intelligence and communication based on recommendations from External Analytics Services.
- Design of real-time and delay-tolerant communication techniques for data exchange between sensor nodes and transfer of the sensor data to a central database. The data will be integrated with the external databases such as PastureBaseIreland and ICBF in order to generate farm-related “big data”.
- Use state-of-the-art computational biology approaches (e.g., artificial intelligence algorithms) to explore the biological relationships among the derived animal-level and pasture-level phenotypes to facilitate forecasting of herd performance.
Through the incorporation of precision technologies, technology platforms and computational biology, the project ultimately aims at building an integrated, zero-touch, ICT solution for Irish dairy farmers to increase the economic and environmental sustainability of the pasture-based systems of milk production.
Fig. 1: Integrated WSN-based Farm Management Environment.
The project work is, therefore, carried out in 5 work-packages:
- Development and enhancement of precision dairy farming technologies that relate to individual animal performance, feed-base and operational farm management.
- Development of an efficient controllable solution for a wireless sensor communication for farm monitoring and virtual fence applications.
- Computational biology analysis, including optimising the efficiency of data transfer and the development of algorithms from biosignals into biologically significant observational data.
- Development of a test-bed evaluation platform for precision technologies in a working farm context.
- Integration of precision farming technologies with pasture-based decision support resources