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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Irish farmers to measure grass from space

Irish farmers will be able to measure grass from space, as a result of a “world-first” technology breakthrough that could revolutionise farming.

Origin Digital’s ‘GrassMax’ service, through Origin Digital and Aspia Space, accurately measures the height of grass from space, offering ground-breaking insight for increasing farm productivity and profitability, while also enabling organisations and businesses to verify sustainability practices in the livestock supply chain.

Through Irish parent company Origin Enterprises, Origin Digital has unique access to a vast pool of ground-truth and field-trial data alongside a strong network of farmers and agronomic experts, which has helped them build this breakthrough measurement technology in partnership with Earth observation and AI experts Aspia Space.

Duncan Robertson, Head of R&D at Origin Digital, has described this as a “game-changing moment” for grassland farmers and the businesses that partner with them.

For the first time, they can remotely and automatically calculate the quantity of grass in their fields and paddocks, on a regular basis and at scale.

This enables farmers to make better-informed decisions regarding grazing schedules, animal nutrition, and silage cuts for example, resulting in less waste and a more stable, sustainable food supply.

Increase in profit

Kieran Holden, Grassland Digital Specialist at Origin Enterprises, added: “As a farmer myself, I am really excited about the ability to measure grass height remotely.”

“It brings huge benefits to grass management while eliminating what is currently a laborious manual measurement process.”

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“This will save Irish farmers around 2 hours per week, or €1,600 per year, in measurement costs alone.”

“But the main benefit is in how farmers like me can use this data through the GrassMax app to increase grass utilisation on their farms.”

Holden said it is “remarkable” to consider that grass utilisation alone accounts for 44% of the variation in net profit per hectare on dairy farms.

In Ireland, each additional tonne of grass utilised per hectare translates to a €256 increase in profit.

He added: “Integrating this automated grass measurement data into GrassMax will give it even more power to help farmers optimise their grass use, with even a half tonne per hectare increase in utilisation equating to a €10,000 increase in profitability on an 80 hectare farm.”

Devlyn Hardwick, GrassMax Product Manager at Origin Digital, said: “The businesses that partner with grassland farmers can also benefit through our GrassMax service, which uses this game-changing new technology alongside the on-farm decision-support app to build a real-time picture of aggregated farm insight.”

“This insight has many applications, from helping businesses and farmers achieve sustainable growth to verifying sustainability practices and scope 3 emissions on farm, and enhancing supply chain security and sustainability.”

In particular, GrassMax enables businesses to:

  • Track live and forecasted grass yield;
  • How many days animals are at grass in the fields;
  • A host of other metrics targeted at increasing fertility, yield, and efficiency to meet the growing demand for milk and dairy products sustainably.

Hardwick continued: “This insight helps strengthen their relationships with individual farmers through a better understanding of their situation.”

“It also provides increased visibility across their portfolio on metrics from overall feed and fodder requirements to key sustainability targets.”

An eye in the sky

Aspia Space co-founder and eirector of AI Dr Mike Smith explained that earth observation satellites “literally provide an eye in the sky” that offer the potential to monitor every single field on a regular basis.

Aspia Space’s patented ClearSky technology uses a generative AI algorithm to deliver cloud-free imagery of the ground, making satellite data more reliable, especially for agricultural applications.

Through its partnership with Origin Digital, it has developed a new AI solution that uses ClearSky imagery to estimate grass height to within an accuracy of just 1.5cm from a vantage point of nearly 700 kilometres up in space.

“To put it in context, imagine standing in a field in Amsterdam and being able to accurately measure the height of the grass in a field in Dublin.”

“Not only can we map the grass height down to a resolution of 10 metres and see variations across a paddock, but we can also monitor how it is changing over time.”

“This is a great demonstration of how we can combine space imagery with ‘ground truth’ data, magnifying its power.”

“Our algorithms allow us to provide physically meaningful insights that enable better decision-making here on Earth. We are proud that this technology is being rolled out in the GrassMax product,” Dr Smith concluded.

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Other article: The importance of grass measuring

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