The pastoral image of the shepherd accompanying his cattle is increasingly unusual. The rise of more competitive and profitable production models has driven herders away from the fields and cows from the pastures. The risks are many and the costs are high, so some farmers are forced to abandon the trade that they often learned in the family.
For that reason, Ignacio Vallejo-Njera, CEO Ixorigue, considers crucial “to make grazing profitable”. An idea that he dreams of bringing to fruition by introducing technology in the field to solve one of the most common problems of extensive livestock farming: the difficulty to control the cattle during the grazing months.
In the Benasque valley, in northeastern Aragons, embedded between the steep mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees, more than 1000 cows go out to graze in the months of summer. “Sometimes there are cows that get lost or deliveries that go wrong in the middle of the mountain,” explains Vallejo. So in 2016, the investment vehicle of the mountain clothing store Barrabs, HEMAV, Madrid company of artificial intelligence and the association of cattlemen of the Benasque valley, Escarpinosa, They combined their knowledge to develop a device that would allow information on the location and physical activity of the animal to be relayed while it was grazing.
The result was the Ixotrack, a collar for cows that processes and forwards this information to the shepherd through WhatsApp notifications thanks to the LoRaWAN connectivity, GPS technology and an accelerometer, which detects movements of the animal as precise as the one it makes when lowering its head to the ground to graze. Although the idea of geolocating cattle through GPS devices is not new, Ixorigue’s innovation is in bringing together several functions in a single device that allows from geolocation of the animal to the detection of heat phases. This information, together with the traditional knowledge of the farmers, would allow detecting, for example, the calving of a cow hours before it occurs. “When a cow is going to give birth, it moves away from the rest of the cattle and stays still. If we know that it is 9 months pregnant, we can detect when it has gone into labor and notify the shepherd in case complications occur.”
Ignacio Vallejo-Ngera and Adri Martnez, CEO and CTO of Ixorigue
The project has penetrated the sector and last month got a round of financing of one million euros. Among the investors stand out Aralec, experts in the electronics sector and distributors of electronic components from Ixorigue, and Finaves, venture capital company of the IESE business school. “They are both demanding and reputable investors and we are proud that they have placed their trust in us.“celebrates Vallejo.
This investment has given the definitive boost to the Aragonese company, which seeks to deploy in the first place in the european market, with an estimate of 50 million head of cattle depending on the startup. After that, “we hope to scale in the Latin American market,” explains the president, the CEO of Ixorigue. A market with an estimate of 300 million heads of animals concentrated in vast cattle belonging to “large landowners”, which Ixorigue hopes to reach in the next few years.
Digitize the field
The agrotechnology sector in Spain is still little known. Still, Ivan Ltolf, president and founder of the Agrotech association estimates that in Spain there are around 600 companies dedicated to this field, mostly startups. A sector that has taken off considerably in the wake of the pandemic. “More than 60% of the companies invoiced more in 2020 than in 2019, and in 2021 more than in 2020. It is a relatively young sector with spectacular growth rates“, assures Ltolf.
“The technology allows you to be profitable, producing more with less costs, detecting, for example, the exact amount of fertilizers that should be used on a farm or if it is necessary to use them throughout the farm, allowing the farmer to save.” For this reason, from Agrotech they consider that farmers and ranchers who do not combine their decisions with “objective data provided by technologies, will be left out of the market”, because this “is going to push you to be more productive”.
The European Union is aware of this and has opened some financing channels to promote projects that digitize the field, such as the project SIGEGA -Intelligent System of Extensive Bovine Livestock Management-, co-financed by the FEDER funding , thanks to which projects such as Ixorigue have been developed. In contrast, the Spanish government “is lagging behind,” criticizes Lutlf, who demands greater attention and public investment from the state in these incipient projects.
Bet on extensive livestock
The project carried out by Ixorigue proposes solutions to the usual setbacks in extensive livestock farms, more sustainable but sacrificed for farmers. This livestock model is losing strength and presence in Spain for multiple reasons, among which is the low profitability of their farms compared to more intensive models.
Thus, the concentration of cattle on farms has increased by 10% in the last 6 years, according to the data of the Animal Traceability System (SITRAN) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Or what is the same: they have disappeared 7,500 livestock farms of cattle at the same time as the census of cows has grown to more than 330,000 heads. This trend is a reflection of the boom in intensive livestock farming in our country. That is to say, the one in which the animals spend most of their lives locked in stables and fed by feed.
Sometimes these farms reach large volumes, becoming what ecologists call “macrofarms”, which have associated environmental and human costs such as bad odors or the need to manage huge amounts of slurry – urine waste and animal excrement – potentially polluting.
Be that as it may, this model is especially productive, since industrializes and systematizes meat and milk production, allowing cheaper products below the prices of traditional farmers, sometimes unable to live on their farms. On the other hand, farmers and ecologists put on the table the importance of not letting the extensive model die, praising the benefits of this for the quality of life of the animal or the environment, avoiding fires or “providing carbon to the soil”, as he emphasizes Vallejo. However, he asserts that “this type of livestock will only survive if it is profitable”. “The stakes are high”
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