Grass monitoring from space will tell farmers when to move cows

Farmers can look forward to using space-age technology to improve grass measuring and monitoring, according to Frank O’Mara, Director of Research at Teagasc.

He used the EU’s new sentinel space mission, as an example of a technology that will be free for the next 20 years, which will bring the most advanced technology down to ground level for farmers.

O’Mara said being able to analyse areas will improve significantly and analysis will be more detailed, with improved technology which will help farmers farm better.

All this technology, he said, can help farmers manage pastures and how much cattle are eating and tell the farmer where to put the fence in the field for the next day’s allocation of grazing.

“We also want to predict grass growth in the paddock for the next week to two weeks using localised weather data and grass growth prediction models.”

Digital technology, he said, will lead to better decisions, greater control and precision.

He was speaking at the launch of the Teagasc Technology Foresight 2035 Project which consulted with over 200 experts and industry stakeholders.

In it, Teagasc has identified five technology themes which it says are priorities for Irish research and innovation in the coming years.

  1. Plant and Animal Genomics and Related Technologies
  2. Human, Animal and Soil Microbiota
  3. Digital Technologies
  4. New Technologies for Food Processing
  5. Transformation in the Food Value Chain System

Teagasc Director of Research Frank O’Mara said the Irish agri-food industry needs to change more radically than ever before, more than the industrial or green revolution changed things.

He said that in relation to genomics, low-cost genotyping and sequencing has enabled this technology area to develop rapidly. “We were the second country in the world, after the US, to introduce cattle genotyping in cattle.”

In relation to microbiota (the totality of microbes in a particular organism, place or environment), he said the gut microbiota is a huge area of work for Teagasc and the food industry and one it needs to capitalise on.

Janet Banbridge, CEO of Agricultural technology for UK Trade and Investment, said innovation in plant breeding, plant health, animal breeding, sensor technologies, agri engineering, animal health are some of the key areas for research and innovation in the UK.

Farmers, she said, are already using some technologies such as GPS steering, soil mapping and yield mapping, but greater buy-in is needed by farmers.

She said that technology adaptation is an issue, with the average age of a farmer in the UK at 57.

Europe, she said, needs to double the agricultural productivity over the next 30 years (without forgetting about regulation and an increasing shortage of arable land).