Parasite Watch, Sheep farming

DATA SHARING IN SHEEP FARMING: TIME TO BUCK THE TREND?

These days everyone is aware that their data has value. What we do, where we go, our preferences: these are valuable commodities that companies are willing to pay large amounts of money for. While the value of data is well understood by industries, such as retail or tech, is the sheep farming industry using its own data to its full potential? Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Chief Strategy Officer Tom Hind thinks not:

“While agriculture is making some progress in developing data-rich tools, there remain significant barriers to accessing and re-using farm data for the good of the sector, much of which relates to a lack of trust about who's going to do what with the data.”

New technologies have given sheep farmers access to more data than ever before - on everything from soil mapping to crop monitoring. But, without industry-wide sharing the true value of that data may never be realised.

UNEARTHING YOUR STRENGTHS

A great example of data sharing being used to improve farmers’ businesses is FarmBench. This free online platform lets farmers enter physical and financial farm performance data and then compares it with an average of at least 15 other similar businesses. The data is password protected and anonymous, and can be split across sheep, beef, potato, dairy and arable enterprises within the farm, giving farmers a complete picture of their performance.

A BELLWETHER FOR THE INDUSTRY

The industry needs more of these initiatives if it wants to evolve and remain competitive. The AHDB is helping to lead the way by spearheading the Farm Data Sharing Project, an initiative that aims to develop a set of data standards and exchange protocols that will help to instigate effective data sharing in the UK. By liaising with farm and value chain figures they intend to create a framework that will inspire confidence in sheep farmers and others that the data they share can and will be used to benefit them.

A FERTILE BREEDING GROUND

We’re doing our bit too. Zoetis organised a live Twitter chat that encouraged sheep farmers to share knowledge on parasites using the hashtag #ParasiteWatch in September. Parasites affect the whole sheep farming community and industry-wide problems require industry-wide solutions. Like never before, technology presents opportunities for cooperation that can solve problems that have impacted sheep farmers and their flocks for centuries. Imagine an industry-wide database that provided detailed information on parasite outbreaks in real time, allowing sheep farmers to identify oncoming threats and protect their sheep against them. The benefits to the industry would be huge.

Parasite Watch is one initiative that’s making aspirations like these a reality. On a bi-weekly basis, parasite data from 18 farms across the country is collected and plotted across national graph made accessible online for farmers to find localised updates on parasites in their area. Now in its third year, the participants know that effective parasite prevention requires more than just relying on what happened last year to inform this year’s decisions. By collecting and sharing parasite data in real time, Parasite Watch has been hugely successful at informing intelligent parasite treatment and prevention strategies.

Parasites cost the sheep farming industry £84 million a year. With an integrated approach to data sharing this could be reduced massively.

LOOKING AHEAD

Collaboration and data sharing is the next big step for sheep farming. As farms become more connected, more intelligent and more cooperative, the industry stands to benefit massively from a digital, data-driven revolution. Watch this space and get involved.