March 19, 2019
An Australian company behind a GPS collar that creates a “virtual fence” for livestock is projecting revenue of $164 million in the next five years.
The eShepherd virtual fencing system, developed by Melbourne-based Agersens, uses a GPS-enabled, solar-powered smart collar to train cattle to stay within a virtual boundary by delivering a small shock if they stray outside.
The technology has generated strong interest domestically and from US, Canada, South America, the UK and South Africa. At around $300 per collar it allows farmers to remotely fence, muster and monitor their livestock via an app.
Agersens chief executive Ian Reilly said the company already had a number of high net worth shareholders with large cattle holdings and was currently in a capital raise seeking a large institutional investor.
Mr Reilly said the ag-tech industry over the past 10 years had been primarily focused on crops and horticulture, with the livestock sector “playing catch-up”. “The unique thing Agersens brings is automated grazing control,” he said.
“It’s quite unique worldwide, we’re the first company to do it. It really creates unlimited opportunity to improve productivity and sustainability and really transform the way we manage our grazing.”
Agersens is targeting revenue of $1 million this year but has a five-year cumulative forecast of $164 million based on early take-up. “We do have a lot of people wanting to buy, we have a waiting list,” Mr Reilly said.
According to a report from the University of Sydney last year, investment in Australia’s agtech industry is severely lagging behind the US, which invests 50 times the amount on a per capita basis.
“There’s enormous opportunity to apply technology to agriculture,” Mr Reilly said. “There is a lot of opportunity there for increased automation and data-related services and products.”
The company this month struck a deal with Ohio State University to conduct research trials into the economic benefits of virtual fencing, following arrangements with the University of Idaho and Kansas State University.
Agersens modelling suggests farmers “should be able to return the cost of the installation within one to two years”. “Essentially the return comes from improved productivity,” Mr Reilly said.
“Being able to manage your capital, automate location grazing on scale to cut labour costs and improve stocking rates so you can produce more beef per annum. If you can control your grazing livestock on pasture cattle put on weight more rapidly.”
The benefit of virtual fencing is it’s flood and fireproof. “Up north they’ve lost thousands of kilometres of fencing in the floods, this is an opportunity to replace those with virtual fencing,” Mr Reilly said.
“It’s very attractive to protect waterways and make sure cattle don’t overgraze and damage land. It’s been used by mining companies for reclaiming land, keeping them off railway lines, managing stock access to rivers.”
Mr Reilly said the technology, which is based on intellectual property licensed from the CSIRO, was “like embedding a dog trainer into a collar”.
“When they approach a GPS boundary it plays a sound,” he said. “If they move forward it gives them an electrical pulse. It teaches them usually within two or three times to stop and turn around before they meet the boundary.”
This article originally appeared in News.com.au.