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The well-dressed dairy farmer may soon be sporting a new gadget clipped to his Wellington boot — the Grassometer. The device just landed 50,000 EUR ($70,000) in funding from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund. The Grassometer uses ultrasound to take up to 200 measurements of the length of grass in a field as the farmer walks around it. The measurements are triggered by an accelerometer, mapped with GPS and sent to the farmer’s smartphone using Bluetooth.
Farmers currently measure grass length just by eyeballing a field or occasionally using an instrument called a rising plate meter and entering the data manually into a software program.
Accurately gauging the length of grass in a field is important for a number of reasons. Dairy farmers move cows between fields depending on the grass level. Grass of length 4-12 cm contains the most sugar and is therefore most efficient for feeding. Farmers also cut excess grass to dry as silage and store it to feed cattle when they are indoors during the winter. Finally, if the grass is below the expected level in a particular field (farmers call this the demand line), it may need fertilizer or other attention to promote growth. Farming organization Teagasc estimates that measuring grass length accurately is worth about 120 EUR per cow.
The man behind the device, Steven Lock, thinks that the real value in Grassometer will come from the data it gathers. Dairy cooperatives know the output of their individual farmers but often have no idea of the differences between the practices of their best and worst performing farmers. The market is in countries like Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and New Zealand where cattle graze outside.
The Grassometer will be available in time for when the grass starts growing again in Spring 2012.Monford Ag Systems, which makes the Grassometer, was founded in 2011 and is based in Wicklow, Ireland.