Cainthus: Most producers will adopt digital livestock tech within three years
15:37 PM | August 13, 2020 | Joseph Harvey
Next month, Aidan Connolly of Cainthus will be among the many speakers at the virtual Animal AgTech Innovation Summit. Ahead of the conference, IHS Markit Animal Health editor Joseph Harvey spoke to the firm's chief executive to talk about the future of digital technology in the livestock sector and the impact of COVID-19 on this burgeoning space.
Founded in 2014, Dublin-headquartered Cainthus has developed computer vision technology that uses a smart camera system to assess animal behavior and environmental changes that can affect production.
The firm launched its technology in February – "a disaster from a timing perspective", according to Aidan Connolly. However, more recently, the chief executive has noticed the galvanizing effect of COVID-19 on the adoption of digital technology in the livestock sector.
He said: “COVID-19 has accelerated the interest and adoption of technology, as people have started to settle down and think about changing how we do business and how we look after our cows.
"It is clear farmers are thinking deeply about the future of their farms. Specifically, they don't really like the idea of people coming to their farms as frequently as they have in the past. Veterinarians may turn up on a farm once a week. A nutritionist might be there once or twice a month, as well as people involved in maintenance and repairs.
"Farms are asking the question: ‘Do I really need that number of visitors?’. They are considering cameras and real-time data to support vets or nutritionists remotely and cut down the amount of visits to the farm.”
Cainthus has targeted farms in California with 2,000 cows or more. While installation of the company's system proved difficult during the first few months of lockdown, since July/August business has picked up pace. Cainthus is now installing its technology on several major farms in the state.
The firm eventually aims to go global, delivering its technology to farms of varying sizes internationally. While Cainthus is currently well financed, it intends to begin its next round of fundraising in September to develop its technology for more species and establish extra applications.
Mr Connolly points out Cainthus is constantly perfecting its technology to tackle the complexity of finding a uniform solution for farms of various sizes and styles in different regions.
"The livestock sector has started to attract a lot of money in last six months," Mr Connolly remarked. "I don't know if this is because of more financial interest and investors are starting to pivot away from croptech and foodtech. Perhaps we have reached an inflection point where this type of technology has become more attractive to investors?
"I think the next three years are going to be the most exciting for precision livestock farming. Producers we speak to, with more than 2,000 cows, say they'll be using technology like Cainthus' within the next three years. With many of them, it will be sooner."
Bad tech hindering digital uptake
Although there have been promising advancements in on-farm adoption of livestock tech recently, the uptake of cattle monitoring systems has been stymied by some bad experiences among producers with technology in general, not just substandard wearable offerings.
"Although you see people trying it, you also see people stopping,” Mr Connolly stated. “You have farmers who are not happy with the experience they’ve had so far. They who feel they have been let down by what they have purchased.
"Farmers for over a century have called ‘snake oil’ solutions that were supposed to improve profitability of their farms. It’s a much broader problem than just digital technology. It’s also occurred in nutrition, genetics and equipment too.
"With this in mind, farmers can be very sceptical. I think this scepticism is fair. If you’ve spent a lot of money on something and it doesn’t deliver what you expected, then naturally you might be once bitten, twice as shy.”
Mr Connolly suggested around 90% of start-ups in the livestock technology segment “are not delivering on what they say they are going to do”.
He added: "This 'fake it until you make it' stance is widespread in the start-up community and that is perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t work in farming. You can't arrive on a farm with 10 ideas and only have one or two that work. Farmers just don't have time for being your testbed. From that perspective, impatience is very high.
"I try to tell people to do their best to engage with start-ups, knowing a large percentage will fail but also knowing – with the help of farmers and producers – more will succeed and can make a lot of money for the sector.
"In terms of camera technologies, there are only a handful of meaningful companies. We are by far the most advanced. We are at the only one in Dairy at the commercial stage since the rest are still testing their concepts. We have simplified and focused our offering – reduced what we are trying to do – to have a commercial product. With a commercial product, that gives us a platform to expand to other applications. We can also scale quickly."
Mr Connolly said Cainthus worked hard to ensure its technology is able to provide meaningful value for producers. The latter ability is key to the growth of young livestock technology businesses, with companies needing to prove their systems work not only on one or two farms but on hundreds.
Cainthus also has a certain credibility and management experience that other start-ups may not possess, according to Mr Connolly. He noted that the firm's senior team not only has vast expertise in the technology and business management sectors, but also knowledge of the farming industry – something that can be lacking at most agtech start-ups.
Aidan Connolly will be speaking at the virtual Animal AgTech Innovation Summit on September 14, 2020, about ‘The Future of On-Farm Systems and Solutions in Livestock and Dairy’. To register click here.