Australian farmers all understand the importance of biosecurity when it comes to animal health. The risk of ignoring farm biosecurity is well known, even by those not working in the farming industry. Everyone remembers the global headlines of mad cow disease after the early 90’s breakout in the UK. As well as a ban on the sale of British beef, it’s estimated this breakout cost the UK economy somewhere between £740 million and £980 million.
As an island, Australia has largely been protected from most serious farm diseases but this defense has become less effective with the increase in global trade. This means biosecurity becomes important on the farm production level. An effective biosecurity plan contains all the steps required to mitigate the risk of an introduction and spread of disease onto a farm. It’s also an important requirement for the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) Program and maintaining a Johne’s Beef Assurance Score (J-BAS).
AgriWebb’s biosecurity function
As a tool to help farmers run a more efficient operation AgriWebb has introduced a dedicated biosecurity function. The tool helps you manage and record everything on your farm that could cause animal diseases. The introduction and movement of livestock is recorded and the notes section allows you to enter movement of people, vehicles and equipment that could possibly cause contamination. By monitoring these movements it’s easier to prevent any infections occurring in the first place.
So, how did we go about building this function? For this project we teamed up with senior university students who were undertaking a capstone project – a final year project that seeks to bring together all their learnings in a real-world environment.
The Capstone Project
Four students joined the team – Elena Yao, studying a Bachelor of IT, James Campbell who holds a Biology degree and was completing a Bachelor of Computer Science, plus Cameron Nichols and Daniel Vassilev, also finishing Computer Science degrees. Working on AgriWebb’s biosecurity function provided the perfect real-world application for the students.
Agriculture presents a large issue with growing populations and its’ impact on the environment. With an industry so vital to our lives, I wanted to contribute to it, says Elena. “When we first came in, the team gave us some insight into what they were hoping to achieve. One particular statistic stuck with me: It is estimated by the industry that between 10 and 15 million lambs die within the first 48 hours of life in Australia annually. This revealed to me the huge potential the industry has to progress and adapt, and I really wanted to be a part of that.”
Understanding the importance of biosecurity
The first part of the project was understanding the importance of biosecurity plans for the Australian agricultural industry. It isn’t just about keeping the farm itself safe but also the wider consumer market and the Australian economy. Agriculture in Australia makes up 12% of the GDP, so any issues will affect the economy as a whole.
The UK mad cow situation really revealed to me the importance of traceability, they had to cull a large percentage of UK’s livestock because of late detection and difficulty with tracing livestock movements. This is why biosecurity procedures are so vital and must be implemented by all farms,” explains Cameron.
Agriculture is a massive industry for Australia and it is highly important to make sure that we have protections in place to minimise the impact disease outbreaks can have on us,” adds James.
A simple safeguard
Creating a biosecurity plan through AgriWebb is simple. You pick a plan template based on your requirements. The LPA on-farm plan is a good all-round option while the Livestock Biosecurity Network (LBN) plan is more detailed. You can also include your Johne’s Beef Assurance Score in any of the plans.
Once you’ve decided on the type of plan suitable to your farm you’ll be asked a series of questions about your current biosecurity practices. Based on this information AgriWebb will develop a plan for your property. Designed to work within any region in Australia, the biosecurity function is a simple step you can take now to avoid problems in the future.
I think biosecurity procedures are a set of relatively cheap and effective measures that can help to prevent common problems as well as large-scale and devastating problems,” explain James and Elena. “By ensuring biosecurity practices are followed, we are also able to maintain our status as a source of high-quality meat and will be able to provide the best products for consumers.”
Learning on the job
The biosecurity function was created with input from working farms. The group showed early prototypes to farmers and undertook customer surveys to develop software that can really help. These interactions lead to a new redesign halfway through the project.
It looks cleaner and is much easier to use now,” says Elena. “We really took customer feedback into consideration, who told us the layout was too complex and confusing. Our aim with this feature was to encourage customers to thoroughly consider all necessary biosecurity measures while being simple to use. The new design is still detailed but without being overwhelming.”
This experience has given the students a way to apply their theoretical studies to a real-world industry.
The project has presented a huge learning curve, both in learning about a large and complex industry in agriculture as well as learning how to put our software engineering skills into practice outside of university,” says James.
Embarking on an AgTech career
The experience has been a positive one for both the students and AgriWebb. In fact, three of the four are now part of the development team. According to AgriWebb’s CTO, Phil Chan, the student’s work will be far-reaching.
“The work that the students did will have a real impact on helping Australian farmers complete their biosecurity requirements,” he says. “We’re very proud of the work they’ve done. Partnering with University of Sydney on this capstone project has proved a great way to engage university students with AgTech, and is something we want to continue in the future.”
For the students a simple university project has opened up a career.
“The company wants to make a genuine impact to progress the industry and really help farmers,” says Elena.
“We’re working on interesting and important problems; our work here affects real people and makes their lives easier,” adds Cameron.