2012 Winner: Innovation In Agricultural Science Sponsored By Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc.
Alberta Technology Company Transforming Cattle Industry
Within the next 30 years the world’s farmers and ranchers will be called upon to double food production, on essentially the same land, and do so in environmentally sustainable ways. At the same time, the global beef industry is dealing with historically high input prices; animal disease; antimicrobial resistance; and consumer concerns about beef safety, animal welfare and carbon footprint.
“Each of these issues has the potential to structurally change the industry,” says GrowSafe Systems® co-CEO Alison Sunstrum. “Industry sustainability — and possibly food security — requires significant productivity gains that must be inextricably linked with improved farm profitability; a challenge which we at GrowSafe contend can only be met by disruptive innovation.”
The company’s team of multi-disciplinary engineers and scientists — led by CEO and Founder Camiel Huisma — develop intelligent systems that have ability in real-time to automatically and continuously monitor individual animals, measure and predict market value, and identify and treat targeted animals without human intervention.
GrowSafe’s patented technology enhances animal well-being and product safety; reduces labour and risks and maximizes profits; and minimizes environmental impact through feed efficient strategies that reduce manure and methane.
“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,” Ms. Sunstrum explains. “The technology is being used on farms with as few as 200 cows to the largest facilities in the world.”
Adapting for Cattle
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 required adapting and inventing new electronics, wireless communication methods, data acquisition and analysis techniques.
“There has been no roadmap for our technology,” Ms. Sunstrum says. “We have defied conventional wisdom over many years and we are changing the way the cattle industry measures and manages cattle. Going against the flow is never easy but can be very rewarding.”
Over the last year GrowSafe has expanded into Brazil, Australia and the UK; and has technology installations planned for Finland, Mexico and South Africa. GrowSafe’s technology is used by more than 75 major agricultural research centres and premium seedstock operations worldwide to conduct livestock research and to measure feed efficiency. Growsafe’s transformative data acquisition platform is defining the standards by which livestock are measured, managed and treated; and it has applications in other industries that require real-time monitoring.
GrowSafe has grown a profitable business and re-invested more than $10 million into research and development. The company has invested $1 million in cash and in kind contributions to Alberta academic institutions conducting research using GrowSafe technology. It has also conducted successful collaborations with researchers around the world.
“GrowSafe gives the livestock industry the technology to produce more food for less money on less land,” says Ms. Sunstrum. “That leads to sustainable agriculture and promotes food security globally.”