Last year Professor Toby Mottram, eCow’s Founder and Chief Engineer, participated in a focus group to develop new policy guidelines for research. On 13th January 2016 the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) published the results of this report, titled ‘A Vision and High-Level Strategy for UK Animal and Plant Health Research to 2020 and Beyond’. This report builds on work done in a previous report published in December 2014: ‘Animal Health in the UK: Building our science capability’, which outlined the first steps in progress towards a new UK Science Partnership for Animal and Plant Health.

Lead by the BBSRC and with aid from contributors from government, academia, industry and the third sector, the research strategy provided in the report aims to provide UK public research funders and policy makers the framework within which to work together in partnership, and with wider stakeholders, to nurture the UK’s research capabilities in the field of animal and plant health and welfare. The report urges the need to build on the emerging internet of things (IoT) to establish a UK Animal and Plant Health Internet of Things (UK-APHIoT). This UK-APHIoT would encompass a web of flexibly interconnected sensors and data nodes, alongside data from wider sources and advanced approaches to data management and analysis.

One of the major objectives outlined in the report was the need for progression of technologies to enable early and automated detection of health risks in animal and plant populations. These views are shared by eCow, highlighted perfectly by VirtualVet, a new app for veterinary medicine recording.

VirtualVet aims to replace the old methods of recording medicine usage in a drugbook with a simple to use app, available on any smartphone, that provides farmers and veterinarians an easy, hassle free way to meet their legal requirements to record medicine usage. This also has the benefit of automating the process of collecting large datasets of veterinary medicine usage. With this data available to the public it will allow disease trends to be easily tracked and areas of high antimicrobial drug usage to be investigated in attempts to minimise the increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in pathogens.

A theme presented in the report focuses around systematic and accelerated breeding to allow and enhance the selection of genetic traits, especially disease and overall health resistance. Another project eCow has currently in development is an IoT enabled fertility monitoring system. Through enhanced fertility monitoring we can precisely predict ovulation cycles, speed up breeding, allowing for more efficient farming systems and greatly aid breeding for specific, desirable genetic traits. There is also the possibility to automatically monitor diseases in the process, further assisting maintenance of animal health.

eCow strongly backs the ideas behind this report and hopes the vision of a 21st century integrated, scalable infrastructure to catalyse the development of ‘next generation’ national research capability is realised. The themes within strongly agree with eCow’s design philosophy. Even our rumen pH bolus has the capability to be used as an IoT device, automatically providing data about the rumen health which could then be interpreted by algorithms that translate data into a diagnosis and prognosis of animal health. The UK-APHIoT is an incredibly powerful concept and one that agri-technology as a whole can benefit greatly from.

The full report can be found here: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/1601-animal-and-plant-health-report-3/