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Fields & Applications Spectroscopy, Food, Beverage & Agriculture

Down on the Farm

What is NIR4 Farm?

NIR4 Farm is a near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy development that puts real-time scientific feed analysis in the palm of the hand of farmers and farm advisors. It allows the user to analyze forage, optimize dairy cow rations, and maximize milk yield. We believe that it gives users the ability to deliver the most cost-effective ration based on real-time forage analysis. The technology is initially only available to the UK dairy industry but we intend extending its availability abroad. And we’ll expand the technology to other applications.

How long has the technology been available?

Onsite NIR measurement is not new and semi-portable NIR machines have been available for the last decade, but these devices are very heavy and typically require a trolley or other device to transport them. Truly portable NIR devices are a recent development, and we launched NIR4 Farm in April 2015. The NIR4 Farm spectrometer can be held in the palm of one hand and it is connected to a handheld tablet device. The whole kit is stored and transported in a robust carry case the size of a briefcase.

What are the benefits?

Being able to perform NIR analysis in the field or on the farm brings numerous benefits. A dramatic reduction in the time between taking the sample and carrying out the analysis ensures that a true real-time result is given. With lab-based analysis, there is a delay in getting the sample to the NIR machine, which might result in sample deterioration and inaccurate results. Comparing potential throughput, portable devices and desktop machines offer similar capacities. However, the quantity of samples analyzed increases dramatically when using a portable device on farm since result delivery is instant and no time is lost sending off samples and waiting for results to come in the post or by email. The capability to analyze more samples obviously benefits the level of accuracy. Having real-time forage analysis results enables real-time adjustments to rations bringing a new level of accuracy to the feeding of the dairy cow. Finally, while desktop NIR devices are very expensive, usually representing a capital investment, NIR4 Farm is only a fraction of the cost.

What are the challenges with this technology?

As with all new technology, you need a change in mind-set to gain maximum benefit from it. With the ability to deliver instant results, users have to be willing to make instant decisions and changes based on their NIR results. Previously viewed as less accurate, continuing advances in technology mean that the accuracy of predictions from portable devices is constantly improving. NIR4 Farm is working with Aunir, the international NIR calibration specialists, who supply and maintain the latest NIR calibrations for forages and fresh grass on the portable device.

How does it compare with other NIR analysis techniques?

Both lab-based and portable NIR devices have their strengths. There will always be a need to have NIR devices in laboratories where they can be tightly controlled and automated, but bringing the technology to the end user will enhance quality controls at the point of production, enable improved best practices, and enhance profitability where it is used. NIR analysis is easy to do and involves no hazardous or harmful chemicals in generating the results. It enables faster decision making and improved sharing of data.

How can it augment other methods or technologies?

NIR4 Farm automatically sends analysis results to a website portal where they are stored and can be analyzed for trends and patterns. The results from NIR4 Farm can be sent via email to anyone else who needs to see them, and the necessary changes to diet formulations can be made.

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About the Author
Richard Wynn

Richard Wynn, Commercial Manager of Handheld NIR, AB Agri, Peterborough, UK.

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