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19 Aug 2022

'Dairy drones' could soon be used by Limerick farmers

'Dairy drones' could soon be used by Limerick farmers

LIMERICK farmers could soon be using hi-tech "dairy drone" imagery - a form of artificial intelligence to help them decide which fields to let their cows graze.

Researchers at Teagasc, UCD and DCU, funded by the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre based in Teagasc, Moorepark, are currently testing the accuracy of physical and lab-based observations of grass growth against new image-analysing, machine-learning models based on photos captured by drones and static cameras.

The aim is to produce predictive data of the yield and composition of grass growth on pastures. This innovation is designed to help farmers determine the best time and which areas to allow their cows feed.

To date, the predictive models based on a simple photograph are resulting in 95% accuracy rates when compared to physical observations.

Deirdre Hennessy, VistaMilk Funded Investigator and Senior Teagasc Research Officer, said that grass and pasture management is vitally important for the success of Ireland’s €5bn dairy industry.

"It’s not as simple as letting the cows out to eat where and when they want. Farmers are constantly walking their fields monitoring grass growth, paying particular attention to its yield, composition, and its grazing suitability.

"They must determine when there are adequate quantities available to feed their animals while making sure they avoid having too much grass, leading to waste and poor quality or potentially under grazing.

"This is very labour intensive and time consuming, and the research that VistaMilk is funding is designed to provide them with that information more easily and quickly," said Ms Hennessy.

The quality of Irish dairy is, in large part, due to the fact that our cows are grass-fed, she said.

"Knowledge of how your grass is growing and what else is in your paddock, such as clover, can make a huge difference to a farm’s profitability and sustainability.

"The imaging analysis work that is ongoing in VistaMilk and with our partners will make the process more accurate and automated, thereby making it easier for the farmer to make timely and correct decisions on how to manage their fields," said Ms Hennessy

The ultimate goal is to create an app that uses a combination of physical observations, weather predictive models and automated grass imaging that will save time and money for the farmers.

"While we are not there quite yet the future is just around the corner," she said.

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