Ardmore, Okla. — For generations, agricultural producers have continued to produce more food with fewer resources. Unfortunately, their greatest test is yet to come.

In October 2011, the world's population topped 7 billion for the first time in recorded history, and estimates have total population numbers breaching the 9.5 billion mark by 2050. To meet this population explosion, it is forecast that the world's agricultural producers will need to produce 70 percent more food in the next five decades, including more protein from beef and other livestock. Of that new production, 70 percent is projected to come from efficiency-improving technologies.

As a linchpin to more efficient cattle production, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and GrowSafe Systems Ltd. have formed a collaboration to test and leverage GrowSafe's latest technology to better understand feed efficiency in pasture-fed beef cattle and develop tools for sustainably improving production of grazing livestock.

“More efficient cattle production is essential,” said Billy Cook, Ph.D., director of the Noble Foundation's Agricultural Division. “Efficient livestock production maximizes natural resources, supports the producer's bottom line and keeps food costs manageable for the consumer.”

U.S. cattlemen raise 20 percent of the world's beef with only 7 percent of the world's cattle, according to a study conducted by Jude Capper, Ph.D., which was recently published in the Journal of Animal Science. “However, as the population increases, so does the demand for protein-rich beef,” Cook said. “As efficient as cattlemen in the United States have been during the past 30 years, we want to continue and even improve on these efficient practices. We want to provide them new tools to better utilize the resources they have, and we will do it for grazing animals – an area overlooked in the field of feed efficiency improvement.”

Through the last decade, GrowSafe pioneered the development of a trough-based feed system with special sensors that continually monitor how much an animal eats in a production environment. The GrowSafe Feed Intake System consists of feed “bunks” that recognize individual animals and accurately measure the feed that particular animal consumes. When an animal enters a bunk, the feed intake system monitors that animal through an electronic RFID ear tag, then relays volumes of data back to a central computer.

A second GrowSafe system, GrowSafe Beef®, records the animal's water intake and weight. As each animal approaches the water trough, it steps on a scale that captures its front-end weight. Front-end body weight is highly correlated to actual body weight. The system also concurrently collects the water consumption information of that animal. For the pasture-based research, the Noble Foundation will use the GrowSafe Beef water intake systems; however, the Noble Foundation is a research site using both GrowSafe measurement and data acquisition systems.

“Think of the data as a picture,” Cook said, commenting on the distinction GrowSafe equipment offers over traditional feed efficiency measuring techniques. “Traditional feed efficiency research would be like looking at one of those children's View-Masters, where you clicked from one single, grainy, low resolution photo to the next. With GrowSafe, it's like watching high definition television.”

The Noble Foundation's Agricultural Division, with GrowSafe researchers and technicians, will be collecting and correlating data to develop practical livestock management and production tools. “Our systems are collecting data every second of the day. There are nuggets of gold in this data, but there is also a great deal of noise,” said Alison Sunstrum, who co-owns the company with founder and primary inventor, Camiel Huisma. “We need people who can help us mine the data and focus research with practical application. The Noble Foundation was a logical fit. They bring all the pieces together – a highly knowledgeable operations group and research geared toward the farmer, stewarding natural resources and improving pasture-based beef production.”

This week, GrowSafe Beef® systems will be installed on small grains pasture where weight gain from grazing, not delivered feed, will be measured. The Noble Foundation-GrowSafe collaboration will take the GrowSafe technology out of the feeding pen and put it in the field, where it has never been before. Researchers will now be able to get multiple readings on weight gain from grazing. “This is the next generation of beef cattle research,” Cook said. “This should allow us to address beef production and pasture management issues that previously were impossible or impractical to tackle.”

By combining the GrowSafe technology with the grazing beef production knowledge and research expertise of the Noble Foundation, the collaboration intends to benefit consumers and producers, improve the competitiveness of the cattle industry and even contribute new data to global research communities, which may have application beyond the cattle industry. “We know our technology will dramatically improve the efficiency of beef production,” Sunstrum said. “We are looking to develop affordable practical measurement solutions. We know our relationship with the Noble Foundation is the first step in applying GrowSafe automation techniques to the benefit of every producer.”

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation ( is a nonprofit research foundation headquartered in Ardmore, Okla. Established in 1945, the organization is dedicated to the improvement of production agriculture and land stewardship. The Noble Foundation conducts internationally renowned plant science research in tandem with agricultural programs focused on forage-based beef cattle production. Together, this full spectrum approach (laboratory to field) enhances agricultural productivity throughout the Southern Great Plains and the world.

GrowSafe Systems ( was established in 1990 and is headquartered in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada. The company develops intelligent systems to record biometric and environmental data in livestock production environments. In 2007, the company began development of the GrowSafe Beef System. This system gives livestock researchers real-time data to monitor the growth, health and nutrient intake of cattle with the goal of improving genetics and feed efficiency.

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