Global technology innovator Gallagher Group has fully acquired virtual fencing company Agersens en route to commercialising what it calls the biggest technology advance the animal management industry has seen in decades.
Melbourne-based Agersens developed the e-Shepherd, a collar which allows farmers and graziers to control the location and movement of cattle without fencing, using a web app and an intelligent, solar-powered neckband connected to the internet via a base station.
The product is currently in test phase, with trials under way on large, unfenced remote Australian farming operations and on three farms in New Zealand.
Hamilton-based Gallagher, a global pioneer in electric fencing and animal management which has become a world leader in high human security technology, first invested in Agersens five years ago, said chief executive Kahl Betham.
It lifted its shareholding to 52 per cent late last year and will officially take control next week. The Gallagher family-owned company said the acquisition price was private.
Betham said the change of ownership will allow Gallagher, one of New Zealand's few truly global companies, to further improve the collar and accelerate commercialisation in Australian and international markets.
"This is an exceptionally important development for our future strategy and for the industry. The pastoral grazing industry hasn't undergone the same technological transformation we've seen in horticulture and dairy. The industry is ready for it.
"We have the capability to pull this together. Our very high technology security business has given us capabilities we can apply to this, which puts us in a unique position.
"This is the future of the industry."
Testing showed the collar technology was effective in rotational grazing and protection of riparian zones.
The collar makes cattle avoid sensitive environmental areas by acting like an electric fence in causing an unpleasant response but by using an audio prompt instead of a visual cue.
The electric pulse received by the animal however is less than that generated by the standard electric fence, the company said. Animals learn after 2-7 "interactions" to start listening to audio prompts and never need to be retrained.
New global general manager for animal management Lisbeth Jacobs, one of several recent leadership appointments to support growth in Gallagher's animal management business, said the new product was "not just something farmers in New Zealand and Australia want" to help lift animal performance, profitability and improve on-farm sustainability.
"When I spoke to our teams around the world (about the full acquisition) the excitement was palpable. They know from their clients in the US and Latin America who have ranches and bigger farms how much the value proposition increases if they don't have to fence off these big farms."
The acquisition was Gallagher's first ever move into "on-animal" technology.
"We can add sensors to this to start managing animal behaviour and animal health."
Sarah Adams, in the new role of global strategy and new ventures manager, said Gallagher made the acquisition to help farmers meet the challenges of compliance and increasing move to precision animal management systems.
Because Gallagher is already close to farmers and understands what they want, it made sense for the company's R&D teams to fast track the research and work Agersens had done and get the product to market.
"Those regulations over waterways are coming very quickly at farmers now," Adams said.
The new tool would assist in compliance and increase productivity.
"In New Zealand we understand pasture management really well and we rotate-graze and we understand the value of that, but in really remote areas like Queensland and a lot of the US they haven't had any way to control their animals. It's been too expensive to manage pasture better."
"It's a win-win for them. They solve a problem (fencing) plus it gives them the next quantum leap with the data and being able to manage their pastures and animals better."
Adams said the collar would be a valuable tool not just for compliance but for farmers and ranchers who hadn't been able to graze areas, or to manage environmentally sensitive areas on their properties, where for example, there had been bush fires.
The ability to access previously ungrazed areas in a controlled way would help intensify production and provide more food for world markets.
Betham: "Imagine how important it is for a farmer to know that some animals are doing better than others, what paddocks they have been in, and have they kept out of waterways?
"If there was an outbreak of a disease they'd know which animal had been in contact with another.
"We already have our own devices connected to the cloud and we have water monitoring coming out later this year. Animal movement automation is pretty special as well and forms a really nice part of the whole farm productivity plan."