With the threat of African swine fever hanging over the pork industry and a devastating new tomato virus just discovered in Ontario for the first time, the need for biosecurity in the agriculture sector has never been stronger. Hand in hand is the ability to quickly and easily track movement on and off farms, which is invaluable in minimizing or preventing costly disease outbreaks.
Why it matters: Disease outbreaks are production-limiting and can cut off Canadian access to vital global agricultural markets — a devastating scenario for a country as export-dependent as Canada.
Alberta’s poultry industry has taken a network approach to biosecurity by enrolling the entire sector — hatcheries, turkey, eggs and broilers — onto an electronic logbook system developed by Guelph-based Be Seen Be Safe Ltd.
Be Seen Be Safe uses pre-determined geofencing boundaries to automatically record movements on and off a property through either a mobile phone app or an in-vehicle GPS system.
“We’ve launched this across the commercial poultry sector as part of poultry emergency management,” says Christina Robinson, farm programs manager with Egg Farmers of Alberta. “The biggest part was getting all the farms mapped.”
And although she says some farmers are a bit leery of the technology, it’s not so important that the farmers themselves actually use the system to track their own movements. Rather, it’s about raising awareness with the industry’s service providers who are on and off farms on a daily basis.
“We are seeing more of the service industry using it. This isn’t just for the benefit of farmers, it’s for the whole industry,” she says, adding that the system can easily be integrated with fleet logistics systems for management at the company instead of driver level.
Liability around responsibility for spreading a potential disease has been the biggest concern, but according to Robinson, Be Seen Be Safe is no different than a traditional log book that shows where people have been. The difference is that the trace back can happen in seconds instead of days, giving the industry much more time to boost biosecurity and take action to minimize or prevent spread.
“Disease incursion is inevitable and what we need to do is understand where it is and then control it,” says Be Seen Be Safe CEO Tim Nelson. “Individual farm biosecurity is extremely good, but even the best are susceptible to disease, so what industry and government need to do is shut it down and we can do that by embracing the concept of network biosecurity.”
The electronic logbook runs in tandem with the company’s customizable Farm Health Monitor software that allows farm staff to record clinical signs of disease on-farm. The syndromic surveillance tool — in use in Spain under the name Health Watcher — automatically sends notification of suspicious clinical signs to anyone on the network.
According to Nelson, the tools, together with overlay of weather data and wild bird movement enable disease movement prediction that can help agricultural sectors take preventive action much faster than is currently the case.
And it’s ideally suited to commodity boards or large integrators who need continuity of supply, he says.
“This is not a system that will protect an individual farm. It’s a network system we are offering to people who will suffer consequences of an outbreak as a network – and it’s not just foreign animal disease, it’s also production-limiting disease,” he says.
Be Seen Be Safe is also running in a segment of the Ohio pork industry as part of a research project, and in Spain through a relationship with PigChamp Pro Europa. There is also interest from France and Denmark, and trials have been run with Australia’s pork and wine industries, Nelson says.
“This is some very smart technology we are employing and among our next steps is looking at the data to see if we can’t help disease modellers at universities develop prediction models using artificial intelligence,” he says.
Be Seen Be Safe has received support from the FedDev-funded Bioenterprise Seed Funding program as well as through grants from National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).
With files from AgInnovation Ontario.