Biotech giant Bayer has worked with Microsoft to develop a digital pest management system that could help farmers stay on top of rodents.
Keeping a lid on rodents is a challenge farmers face, as crop storage and livestock housing are the ideal environment for pests, providing nesting sites and an abundance of feed.
Rodents are responsible for eating and spoiling feed as well as damaging equipment, and they are also a major biosecurity risk in livestock, being vectors of diseases such as leptospirosis and salmonella.
With the speed at which infestations grow, it is important for farmers to keep a handle on rodent populations - one pair of rats and their offspring are able to produce 800 young in 9 months.
Bayer’s latest technology aims to prevent these pests gaining a foothold.
How it works
Bayer's digital system connects a series of strategically placed smart traps across a site to keep rodent numbers down and identify where the hotspots of activity are, meaning prevention methods can be improved.
Gary Nicholas is heading up the roll out of the digital pest management system for Bayer, he believes it could prove revolutionary for businesses.
“The future of pest management is in using digitally collected data to make more informed decisions about pest prevention,” he said.
“This is not designed to take away the job of the pest controller, we still need their knowledge to use this information to control rodent populations.
"On their visit to a site, pest controllers will not need to waste time inspecting boxes, instead they will already have that information to begin making tailored plans.”
The system uses sensors that automatically send real-time capture alerts so that users know exactly when and where a mechanical trap has been triggered.
This information comes through to an app on the user’s phone, which also receives 24 hour system notifications that keep a record of all the data.
That data is made into a heat map so that hotspots of rodent activity can be identified, meaning more targeted prevention and control measures can be implemented.
Wi-Fi is not required to run the system, instead it uses the low powered Lorawan network that connects into a small modem which Bayer provide.
The sensors in the traps are battery run and have a lifespan of around 4-5 years.
Nick Palmer runs a pest control business, called Agripest, in West Yorkshire which specialises in providing services farms.
Mr Palmer said that the high level of regulation makes it challenging to control infestations.
“Farms are a magnet for rodents and can be notoriously difficult to get on top of, particularly on livestock setups, because we are heavily restricted as to what rodenticides we can use within the sheds.
“For example, on poultry farms we are having to do a riddance once a year between flocks because it is such a challenge to stay on top of infestations whilst the birds are in the sheds.”
Mr Palmer also explained that he tries to avoid using rodenticides and that the majority of the work he does is around prevention.
“Rodenticides are a last resort, the most important thing is to look at how rodents are getting into the site, maybe there is a hedgerow nearby or an obvious way they are entering the buildings,” he said.
The digital system aims to give users a clearer picture of where to target those prevention plans.
Mr Nicholas said that the primary benefit of digital pest management is that it fully integrates with traditional methods.
He said: “This will work hand in hand with the management farmers and pest controllers are already doing.
"It is designed to give them the knowledge to make clearer decisions, by all means still use rodenticides if there is a mass infestation, but this can help make those methods more targeted and effective.”
The full history of the data the system collects is kept so that an effective pest management plan can easily be demonstrated on an inspection.
Mr Nicholas said this could really raise the professionalism of the industry: “It is the equivalent of having all traps inspected, serviced, and reported on 24/7, 365 days a year.
"The app gives farmers and pest controllers the understanding of what is going on whilst they are not there.”
This knowledge means that a trap can be attended to as soon as it is triggered, meaning it is active for more time and dead rats will not be left to fester in traps for long periods.
Using mechanical traps helps to reduce rodenticide use which limits secondary poisoning and impacts on non-target species.
Whilst these traps have proven very effective in clean environments, such as the shopping centres where the Bayer system is already in action, he explained that there are difficulties when using them on farms.
“You tend to find on farms that you get a lot of jams. The traps get ceased up with the mud and detritus that is in the agricultural environment, whilst vibration and disturbance can create false triggers.
"That is not to say they do not have a place, but they take a lot of maintenance,” Mr Palmer said.
The Bayer system aims to tackle these issues as best it can, according to Bayer's Gary Nicholas.
“The sensors are able to identify when there is a rodent in the trap, so it can tell the difference between an accidental and genuine trigger, meaning false data is not created.”
The other drawback to the system is the pricing, which primarily leaves it as a genuine option to larger producers.
A £2,400 annual subscription is paid for the use of the system, whilst the traps themselves can be bought outright.
A mouse traps costs around £60, whilst a rat trap will set you back nearer £70.
Killgerm are Bayer’s UK distributor and pricing does vary dependent on the scale of the purchase.