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DataMuster focused on profitability of beef industry

DataMuster focused on profitability of beef industry

Published:09 July 2018

Part and parcel of the romance of Northern Australia’s cattle industry are the extreme wet and dry seasons, the big skies, vast expanses of bush and the ringer’s life of mustering big mobs out from the scrub.

The trouble for the beef industry is that this tough environment is also tough on the business bottom line.

A case in point is the low fertility rates in Northern Australian herds, where 47 per cent calving rates are normal, according to industry body Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). The tough environment also creates significant challenges for the beef industry to participate in the growth of AgTech innovation.

Calving rates have a massive impact on profit – naturally, the more calves born per cow, the more productive and profitable a herd is and, in southern areas, cattle breeders average close to 90 per cent calving rates.

MLA research also shows that the top 25 per cent of producers in the region (those operating profitably) are acutely focused on their genetics, their pastures and their labour efficiency. As a result, they achieve higher reproductive rates, lower mortality rates and heavier sale weights.

Overcoming those barriers to profitability for the bottom 75 per cent of producers is a new innovation from CQUniversity’s Precision Livestock Management (PLM) program, led by Professor Dave Swain in Rockhampton.

Forming part of CQUniversity’s Institute for Future Farming Systems, the PLM team is on the cusp of rolling out groundbreaking new animal monitoring technology to grazing properties across Central and Northern Queensland.

Known as ‘DataMuster’, the technology integrates on-farm walk-over-weighing systems, low-bandwidth data transmission technology and sophisticated analysis systems to deliver real-time information about individual animals and infrastructure, direct to a mobile app.

Professor Swain explained that the challenge facing the North Australian beef industry remains the same as it did a century ago.

DataMuster is as an integrated tool that links hardware and software to deliver fast, simple and accurate monitoring of cattle performance in remote locations. At the heart of the DataMuster application is an enabling platform built on an innovative integration of cutting-edge computing with cloud-based analytics to deliver practical solutions in remote low-bandwidth environments. This innovation has been achieved through the development of a network of cost-effective, cutting-edge micro-computing platforms, or data-hubs, that are able to do the heavy lifting required to optimise distributed sensor systems.

The DataMuster DataHubs create smart gateways that provide:

* A functional connection by running web-servers in the paddock to allow users to easily access local data via customised apps that can run on mobile devices or via dedicated monitors and peripherals

* Local databases that provide local data storage that can be linked to the server databases and enable local access

* Dedicated software and analytics using docker containers that provide stand-alone customised solutions to enable local processing of sensor data to both optimise data communication in low bandwidth environments and allow local autonomous decision making

* Nodes that are part of a distributed blockchain database to allow authentication of sensor data that can be used for transactional activities and connect the consumer to the producer

* Optimised communications through the ability to integrate and manage the sensor data load across a range of local networks to both receive and distribute locally (e.g. wifi, LORA, RFID, UHF) while also being able to connect to the cloud to upload and download data using the most appropriate connection (e.g. 3G/4G or satellite).

The sensor-based system also provides validated data that can be used for transactions via a blockchain architecture. These transactions support direct trading as well as indirect performance recording for genetic improvement, greenhouse gas audits and consumer-driven welfare standards.

The point of difference for DataMuster is the integration of systems from the paddock through to the cloud. The system utilises container-based software and delivers end-user value through a unique set of tools built around the DataMuster DataHub cutting-edge computing.

“The harsh conditions, geographical remoteness and expanse, still means that identifying superior genetics which can thrive in harsh and remote environmental conditions, with limited human intervention, is still top of mind for a majority of producers,” Professor Swain said.

“With the fully integrated DataMuster system, graziers will be able to monitor their property, each of their animals and even the amount of water in remote troughs, all in real-time from the homestead.

“This will not only improve their profitability by cutting down on labour costs, it will improve their herd management decisions by providing them with information on cattle weight and suitability for market, whether or not a cow is pregnant, when she has calved, and vital genetic data such as the maternal parentage, reproductive efficiency and growth rates.”

Data Muster was been developed over the last five years in collaboration with industry and primary producers and has been extensively tested in real-world conditions. DataMuster was officially launched as a pre-commercial application at the 2018 Beef Expo in May and the DataMuster team is currently working with a small group of cattle producers to do on-farm beta testing. Producers are shaping the developments in preparation for a full commercial launch in January 2019.

“The research has been conducted with industry, for industry and end-user engagement is a crucial part of all our agriculture research at CQUniversity,” said Professor Swain.

Not only does DataMuster address significant agriculture challenges; it is also developing cutting-edge software applications.

Professor Swain emphasised how “it is great to see a regional university working with rural communities to innovate and deliver customised cutting-edge computing based on software built using docker containers and integrating this with cloud-based servers – DataMuster not only meets a consumer need; it is also providing novel computing solutions”.

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