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Cow facial recognition among many ‘future ideas’ discussed at annual conference

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 30 June 2016
Alltech hosted its 32nd annual conference

More than 3,000 people from 71 countries came to Lexington, Kentucky, May 22-25, for “One: The Alltech Ideas Conference.”

Sharing the stage with Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, were former Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell; John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach; Alan Mulally, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc.; Ramez Naam, co-chair of Energy and Environment, Singularity University; and Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble.

“The future is a choice, not chance,” said Lyons, urging participants to choose an idea and embrace it with passion. “If you don’t go down the corridor, all the doors remain closed.”

Facial recognition for cows

In addition to a celebration of all things Alltech, one breakout track explored the future of farming through technology and education.

U. S. astronaut James Lovell captain of Apollo 13

David Hunt, co-founder of Cainthus, a technology company dedicated to digitizing agriculture, called the coming age a “digital or information revolution” and declared it both exciting and terrifying.

“Science fiction is becoming science fact,” Hunt said. “It’s vitally important we make the right decisions and use the correct tools to make those decisions.”

In Hunt’s future, digital cameras are at the core of many agricultural advancements. Cainthus has developed facial recognition software for dairy farms that can memorize the face of a cow in six seconds and monitor the activity of an entire herd without wearable tracking devices.

The company is creating algorithms to allow software to alert a farmer when cows show early signs of lameness or when they fight over the best feed.

Hunt looks forward to a day when farms, using cameras and drones, are photographed twice a day, with the data used to make management decisions.

Dr. Pearse Lyons President and founder of Alltech and John Calipari University of Kentucky men's basketball coach

“If we have precision management observing what things work and what does not work on a meter-by-meter basis and a plant-by-plant basis, there is no emotion, there is no hype,” he said. “There’s just good decisions and maximization of productivity.”

Jay Johnston of Ritchie Feed and Seed Inc., a regional feed manufacturer in eastern Ontario, Canada, is a mainstay at Alltech conferences. His company’s analytical systems will begin incorporating facial recognition technology in the next six months.

Using technology to help reduce variation in dairy cow nutrition will make cows “living databases” from which to build management decisions, he said. That, in turn, will help dairy farmers combine sustainability and profitability for survivability.

“You can be as sustainable as you want, but survivability is not guaranteed,” Johnston said.

Dawson: New education needed

Technology creates the need for technologists, requiring new educational methods, according to Karl Dawson, Alltech’s vice president and chief scientific officer.

The traditional path of ag education, farmers teaching farmers through the land-grant university system, no longer generates the excitement needed to attract the next generation of “farm technologists,” he said.

Mary Shelman, former director of Harvard Business school's Agribusiness Program

To meet the future food production needs and fill the ag industry career pipeline, ag education will require funding and leadership to create a paradigm shift emphasizing both sustainability and survivability for both farmers and the world’s population.

“The era of farm technologists will require a new technical skill set,” Dawson said. “The foundation will continue to be an understanding of basic scientific principles. The education process will need to start younger and build excitement, giving a view of what career opportunities might look like by showing how science influences an industry.”

Fostering a passion for science will require offering life experiences versus classroom learning and the ultimate goal of a “job.” Those experiences must offer immersion in the environment, people and systems, including on-farm experiences, embedding the student in the business of farming.

“Hands-on experiences will not be an option but rather a priority,” Dawson said. “Beyond academia, industry must take the leading role in changing the education process.”

Visit One The Alltech ideas conference for more information on the event.  PD

PHOTO 1: Alltech hosted its 32nd annual conference in Lexington, Kentucky, attracting more than 3,000 people from 71 countries.

PHOTO 2: Featured speakers included former U.S. astronaut James Lovell, who relived his experiences as captain of Apollo 13. 

PHOTO 3: Dr. Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, shared the stage with John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach. 

PHOTO 4: Mary Shelman, former director of Harvard Business School’s Agribusiness Program, discussed how the changing landscape of food marketing impacts agricultural producers. Photos courtesy Alltech.

Dave Natzke
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