Ofcom Wales explores the digital farmyard

12 December 2019

Ofcom colleagues based in Cardiff recently took a trip to north Wales to visit a ‘digital farmyard’, finding out how technology is changing the face of agriculture.

The team were invited to visit Coleg Glynllifon, a 400-acre agricultural college near Caernarfon and a trailblazer in agri-tech.

A view of Coleg Glynlilifon, a 400-acre agricultural college.

Source: Coleg Glynllifon

Farm manager Rhodri Owen talked to them about the potential of the ‘Internet of Things’ and the ‘LoRaWAN’ control system.

The Internet of Things refers to everyday devices and appliances that can connect to the internet and each other. These include security systems, lights, domestic appliances and vending machines.

The LoRaWAN system uses the radio spectrum to allows connected devices to communicate wirelessly

This technology can help farmers by allowing them to scan their animals’ health remotely. If an animal is stressed or has a dietary problem, this data is sent back to the farmer – this is really helpful when they might have hundreds of animals to monitor, which are spread out over large areas.

The technology will soon be sophisticated enough to allow cows in and out for milking with no need for humans to oversee the process. Grass sensors are already monitoring the rate of growth so sheep don’t graze for too long in one spot. It’s also used to monitor forestry irrigation and the growth of young trees.

A friendly cow

Sheep rustling is a significant crime in north Wales. To help combat it, Glynllifon is trialling a prototype sensor. Each sheep would wear a sensor, providing data when it’s agitated or running away from a human or predatory animal. Technology such as this could make a profit, and the aim is to turn the technology into a commercial venture.

Dafydd Gruffudd, managing director for non-profit organisation, Menter Môn in Anglesey, talked to the team about initiatives including a Virtual Reality Dementia project. Using a virtual reality headset, carers are shown the world through the eyes of a dementia patient. The headset shows how a patient might move, as well as the distorted perception of the objects and people around them. The hope is that it will give carers a better understanding of how dementia sufferers perceive the world. You can view a video about the project by BBC Click on YouTube.

A 'Welsh safari'

It was then time for the team to board the Glynllifon minibus for a Welsh safari through the college’s estate.

In the past, Glynllifon was a stately home, but now it’s been repurposed into an eco-friendly, thriving agricultural college and working farm – where 100,000 trees have been planted over the past 10 years. The tour also called by the milking sheds, where the cattle wear transponders. This bit of kit helps to work out how much food they need, as each cow might have different dietary requirements.

While farmers and businesses in north Wales are embracing new technology, getting connected is still a challenge for some. So our team also visited M-Sparc, or Menai Science Park, to find out how it encourages innovation in the area.

Project manager Pryderi ap Rhishiart talked about a new venture M-Sparc is working on, in partnership with Bangor University and a number of telecoms and technology firms. The aim is to establish a 5G test-bed along the A55 in North Wales, which would be a huge step forward for the area in mobile technology.

If successful, it could help to create 5G-related businesses and services and help more people to get connected in this rural and remote area.