‘Internet of things’ (IoT) is rolling out throughout the world’s food systems, enabling everything from ‘smart fridges’ to ‘fitbits for cows.’ Yet some aspects of farming have proved a tricky task for IoT sensors, not least those in livestock feed bins. Here, not only are connectivity bottlenecks a problem, but the sensors themselves have to be robust enough to withstand the often rough and ready business of surveilling animal feasting up close.
BinSentry is a Canadian company designing sensors to work around these hazards and keep real-time track of feed levels. Its devices are solar powered, require limited connectivity, and — crucially — are self-cleaning.
The startup recently told AFN it’s planning a large US expansion, having just closed a Series A funding round of $7.7 million.
St. Louis, Missouri’s Lewis & Clark AgriFood led the round, with participation from other investors including BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund. Existing backers Garage Capital and Chilligo Investments also joined in.
Lewis & Clark principal Larry Page said his team’s due diligence on BinSentry had involved speaking to farmers who had found it to be “transformational” in helping them comply with antibiotics and food safety regulations.
Farmers also reported that the sensors acted as an early-warning system to prevent “emergency outs of feed.” When feed runs out, the time lost restocking from distributors can lead to conditions such as ulcers and even starvation for some livestock. With BinSentry monitoring, Page said, “it makes distribution and delivery of feed so much more efficient.”
Other benefits include fewer costly ordering errors, reduction in late or unexpected feed orders, and increased safety by eliminating the need for farm and feed mill employees to climb bins to check inventory levels.
Founded in Ontario in 2017, BinSentry had over 1,000 sensors installed in 2019, when the company received a Forbes Innovation Icon Award. The company currently serves over 20 feed production operations, servicing over 10,000 bins.
Its next phase, according to Page, is analysis of live formulation trials and measuring feed conversion ratios. So far, the largest markets are pigs and poultry, but the company is looking to diversify, having identified areas like aquaculture feed for potential expansion.
Other feed bin sensor companies out there include the likes of Minnesota’s BinTrac — which offers a load-cell solution — or Nebraska’s BinMaster, which has a laser-based option.
BinSentry founder and CEO Randall Schwartzentruber said his team sets itself apart from the competition with its ‘as-a-service’ business model, where “BinSentry handles all the heavy-lifting.”
“This eliminates all the risk associated with hardware ownership,” he added, flagging typical hardware drawbacks like high installation costs, ongoing-maintenance requirements, eventual device replacement costs, or technology obsolescence.
BinSentry’s approach “ensures that our customers always have accurate, timely data and the most advanced, consistently operational hardware, without needing to be experts in hardware,” he said. “In contrast with our competition, BinSentry installs in any feed bin in 10 minutes or less — as opposed to hours — does not modify the bin, and does not require power or internet to be provided on-farm.”
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