Disease prevention and responding quickly in case of an outbreak are two critical components to keeping livestock healthy, borders open and food on grocery store shelves.
An Ontario company has developed a series of tools to help the agriculture sector do just that, and their innovations are turning heads on both sides of the Atlantic.
Why it matters: Livestock diseases like highly pathogenic avian influenza or African swine fever are not just an animal welfare issue. They also have far-reaching global consequences for food security, international trade and economic stability.
Guelph-based Farm Health Guardian received an innovation award from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in September for its Farm Health Protect system.
The system is used on more than 500 farms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and is being tested on an additional 400 farms in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“It’s fantastic to win the award and the recognition will help us greatly with expansion,” says CEO Rob Hannam, adding that the real benefit for the industry lies with increased awareness of the power of biosecurity tools.
Farm Health Guardian is a digital biosecurity system that helps livestock and poultry farmers lower their cost of production by improving animal health and reducing disease risks. Its two main components are a real-time animal health record-keeping and reporting system called Farm Health Monitor, and Farm Health Protect, a biosecurity management system that creates a virtual perimeter around a farm and automatically and confidentially logs movement of trucks and people on and off the property.
“Our current customers are in the pork sector in Canada and the next group are in poultry in the UK and Europe,” he says. “Farmers have lots of risks and they can’t take on new technology that adds more risk, so it’s our job to prove it works.”
An expansion earlier this year into the UK through a partnership with Livetec Systems prompted Hannam to enter a UK-based innovation pitch competition called Tesco Agri T-Jam. Tesco, one of the UK’s leading retailers, launched the competition five years ago to identify promising start-ups with innovations addressing net zero carbon, crop yields and quality, animal health and welfare, operational efficiencies and biodiversity.
Out of 150 entries, Farm Health Guardian was among the top eight innovators chosen to make a live pitch presentation at the World Agri-Tech conference in London last month to a Tesco judging panel, and although his company didn’t win, Hannam is keen to pursue new opportunities this international exposure is unveiling.
“It was a thrill to be in the top eight and present this technology live to a major influential retail chain in the UK, including category managers for protein – and a fantastic opportunity to showcase Canadian technology to an important international export market,” he says.
“There are urgent and imminent threats to our sector, and we have the tools to both prevent them through better biosecurity and respond to enable faster response.”
Enabling faster response was the catalyst for Farm Health Guardian’s latest release, a mapping tool called Farm Health FastMaps designed specifically for producer organizations, governments or farm production systems to quickly create control zones and communicate with farms that are or may be at risk of a disease outbreak.
According to Hannam, Canada’s avian influenza outbreak earlier this year highlighted that current software solutions being used in outbreak situations aren’t as user-friendly as they could be, slowing down emergency response and communications.
“Speed matters in an outbreak and current systems aren’t built for speed, so we identified an opportunity for improvement in mapping and the ability to quickly communicate with farmers,” he says.
The new mapping tool lets users draw customized radius and polygon quarantine zones in a specific area and instantly generate a list of all farm properties within the zone, including contact information. Wind speed and direction can easily be added to further identify properties that may face windborne pathogen transmission risks so early actions can be taken to control disease spread.
FastMaps is available as an independent solution or as part of the larger Farm Health Guardian suite of systems.