Sheryl Haitana

Artificial intelligence technology is coming to New Zealand and could be the ultimate farm assistant.

IDA – intelligent dairy farmer’s assistant – is technology from Dutch company Connecterra.

IDA learns the behaviour of cows, the behaviour of farmers, learns the context farmers operate in, and gives support to help farmers run a better farm business.

IDA is a farm assistant that is a labour unit that is consistently learning, who doesn’t sleep and the farm owner only pays for what they use, Connecterra chief executive Yasir Khokhar says.

“Like a good assistant it should remind you, warn you, it should ask you questions, give you advice. That’s what a true AI should do. IDA is a very advanced labour unit.”

‘Like a good assistant it should remind you, warn you, it should ask you questions, give you advice. That’s what a true AI should do. IDA is a very advanced labour unit.’

Technology in the past has been based on what a farmer needs, whether it’s a farm in Europe or NZ, but this is taking it a step further where the technology is thinking for the farmer.

“AI technology could be a game-changer in the NZ dairy industry,” he says.

IDA connects to sensory hardware such as pedometers or collars on cows in order to collect data, and then uses that data to predict and provide guidance to farmers.

The technology can integrate with other companies’ systems, Yasif says.

“Unlike existing trackers, which merely relay data to a central collection point, we built IDA as a system based on intelligence.”

Farmers can add information such as changes in feed, and IDA will keep track of the impact of that feed, what changes happen, analyse the behaviour of cows, and give updates on any changes in behaviour. IDA will alert when the impact is significant for the herd or individual cows.

The company is setting up two onfarm trials in NZ to test the IDA technology in a grass-based system. NZ is a key market to come into, it’s large and well-respected and they want to see if the artificial intelligence could extend to pasture management, Yasif says.

IDA can also be used to connect data with industry partners, such as dairy processors, feed or genetic companies.

A dairy processor could use the AI technology to monitor regional trends to look out for health outbreaks or milk supply forecasts, for example.

“A dairy processor could monitor trends in their supply base,” he says.

“What’s happening in the north region, why are farms doing better than the south, is there an outbreak of mastitis, or an outbreak of some other infectious tissue? How will that impact production?”

IDA technology is currently in 11 countries and results from a 12-month trial (that will be published later this year) have shown more than 30% increase in efficiency.

In the trial cows monitored with IDA increased their milk yield and the use of antibiotics was halved compared with cows that weren’t monitored by IDA.

“When IDA was giving health alerts to farmers, it was giving those alerts two to three days before the problem became apparent. Humans could not see the problem, but IDA could. That gave us enough time to intervene and use preventative mechanisms for resolving health problems.”

Sensor technology has historically focused on heat detection, but this is about health and IDA asking questions, not just monitoring data.

The fear people have around artificial intelligence is not the reality of where technology possibilities are at today, Yasif says.

“To make a machine that resembles human intelligence, commonsense, reason – we are a long way from that.”

The definition of artificial intelligence

is the ability of machines to do things better than what humans can do by themselves.