There is a milk glut in the U.S.. Technology has allowed dairy farmers to produce more milk than ever, but all this abundance has caused milk prices to plummet. It’s getting so bad that some farmers face selling off their cows.
While technology helped create this crisis, perhaps SomaDetect‘s technology can help struggling dairy farmers get out of it.
SomaDetect uses a combination of optical sensors and machine learning to help dairy farmers analyze the milk each cow produces to determine its quality. As SomaDetect CEO Bethany Deshpande explained it to me, farmers attach a small sensor box to the milking hose, which shines a light through the milk as it flows. Based on the scatter pattern of that light coming through, SomaDetect’s software can analyze what’s in the milk.
The company measures fat and protein as well the reproductive status of a cow and any residual antibiotics. More importantly, SomaDetect can look at somatic cells to detect Mastitis, a serious bacterial infection of the udder that is the most common disease among dairy cows and the number one cause of their early death. By quickly identifying cows with high somatic cell counts, farmers can better target treatment and to help prevent the spread of Mastitis.
Additionally, one cow can throw off somatic counts for an entire batch of product. By removing high-somatic cows, the farmer can lower the overall somatic counts of their milk and earn more money: “Farmers with low somatic cell counts get a bonus from the milk processor,” said Deshpande.
This type of deep inspection of milk has only recently become possible. According to Deshpande, the optical technology has “been around for a hundred years,” but advances in computer vision and machine learning means SomaDetect’s software can analyze vast sums of information in ways that were not possible even five years ago.
SomaDetect isn’t the only company using light to help dairy farmers. EIO Diagnostics uses multispectral imaging for Somatic cell counting, and Consumer Physics is putting its handheld SCiO device to use on farms to detect levels of dry matter in cow feed, which can also impact milk production.
SomaDetect was founded in 2016 in New Brunswick, Canada. The company won a 43North startup competition, earning them $1 million in funding and office space in Buffalo, NY. SomaDetect makes money by selling the equipment to farmers and charging $5 per month per cow for the software. The company is currently running pilot programs and is searching for seed funding as it looks to expand into New York state.
Deshpande says she came from the dairy side of the industry and wants SomaDetect to work closely with farmers. With milk prices expected to stay low throughout this year, dairy farmers could use all the help they can get.