2011 Finalist: Innovation In Agricultural Science Sponsored By Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc.

Technology Provides Livestock Industry With Profitability And Sustainability

GrowSafe Systems Ltd. has used true innovation, engineering excellence and an inspired vision for the future to allow Alberta’s six-billion-dollar beef industry to address major market forces pressuring its profitability and sustainability. Worldwide, GrowSafe’s data acquisition platform innovation is defining the standards by which livestock are measured, managed and treated.

Innovative Technology

The company’s team of multi-disciplinary engineers and scientists — led by CEO and Founder Camiel Huisma —  develop intelligent systems that automatically measure biometric and environmental inputs in livestock production, continuously monitoring individual animal health and performance status. Predictive algorithms identify sick and market-ready animals triggering mechanisms that visually identify and treat them without human intervention.

“Our base technology was discovering how to individually identify animals in a group environment, which to date has not been accomplished elsewhere,” says Co-CEO Alison Sunstrum. She adds that the technology can apply to any industry that requires continuous monitoring with predictive mitigation or optimization.

Agricultural Improvements

The company’s patented technology offers a scientifically proven, unprecedented ability in real-time to enhance animal well-being and product safety; reduce labour, maximize profits, reduce risks; and minimize environmental impact through feed efficient strategies that reduce manure and methane.

“GrowSafe technology enables farmers and ranchers to be more profitable and the industry to be more environmentally sustainable,” Ms. Sunstrum says. “The discovery has been used to implement genetic selection for metabolic efficiency in cattle that will reduce feed input by up to 12 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions and manure by as much as 40 per cent.”

New Approach

In 1990 GrowSafe engineers developed a computerized data acquisition system that electronically monitored ostrich chicks. Early findings in cattle using GrowSafe technology indicated similar early predictive abilities using animal behavior to early identify illness. The technological transition from a system that could measure a small bird confined in a controlled environment to a large animal in the cattle environment was extremely complex and required adapting and inventing new electronics, wireless communication methods, data acquisition and analysis techniques.

Adoption of the innovation across the world has made GrowSafe and Alberta a recognized leader in beef production and animal agriculture. The company now has 18 employees. Its technology is used by more than 60 major agricultural research centres and premium seedstock centres worldwide to conduct livestock research and to measure feed efficiency.

“The technology is being used on farms with as few as 200 cows to the largest facilities in the world,” Ms. Sunstrum says. “We’re proud that the GrowSafe platform can be adopted by anyone.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The beef industry is under significant pressure from rising costs, animal disease, antimicrobial resistance, consumer perception about the safety of beef products, trade barriers and traceability requirements, and animal welfare. Until GrowSafe’s innovation, no technology existed that could be employed to address these multiple issues confronting profitability of animal agriculture and the industry’s very survival.

“Everyone at GrowSafe recognizes that with the predicted growth in population — from 6.3 billion today to 9 billion in 2050 — we need to increase food production without additional land or resources,” Ms. Sunstrum says. “GrowSafe gives the livestock industry the technology to produce more food for less money on less land, which leads to sustainable agriculture and promotes food security globally.”