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Optimal feeding

Optimising silage is the goal of Silolytics, three young experts from agricultural science and technology. The EXIST Business Start-up Grant paves the way to their own company.

Two men and a woman in a field
© Thomas Engel, Silolytics

The team from Silolytics wants to digitally support silage production (from left to right): Simon Ehrenstein, Fehmke Böckenhauer and Ties Junge.

The quality of silage, the main feed on livestock farms, also depends on the skill and experience of the silage roller drivers. Three young people are currently working to digitally support this process. The ultimate goal is not only better quality feed, but also significant cost savings for agricultural businesses. "We are developing a sensor platform with which the volume and thus the harvest quantity can be recorded online during the ensilage. The platform is designed to simplify the feed planning, and to enable the desired compression to be achieved," said Simon Ehrenstein, to summarise the goal of Silolytics. The idea for the start-up came from Ties Junge, who developed the concept as part of his Master’s thesis at the chair of agromechatronics at the TU Berlin. Through his work at the CAU, Kiel Master's student Simon Ehrenstein came into contact with Ties Junge, and programmed the applications for Silolytics. Fehmke Böckenhauer, who studied agricultural sciences in Kiel and already worked in the agricultural sector, contributed the agricultural expertise and is responsible for sales.

After animal feed plants such as grass or maize are chopped and then compressed by driving over them with a silage roller, the product ferments under a special foil with no oxygen. The resulting silage can be stored, and thereby serves as a staple food for livestock all year round. "If the substrate is not compressed enough, mould can form, making the affected areas unusable," said Fehmke Böckenhauer. If silage has to be thrown away, this represents a cost factor. "Staple feed production constitutes around 30 percent of the total costs for dairy farms," said the agricultural scientist. The sensor is mounted on the silage roller so that the process can be managed online. It is thus possible to directly intervene in the silage production process in order to optimise it. "To determine the volume, we have developed a sensor which measures the position and orientation of the vehicle in the drive-in silo in real time, so at the end you know how much silage is at which place in the silo," explained computer scientist Simon Ehrenstein, who supervises the technical implementation together with Ties Junge. Ultimately, the measurement should be accurate to within three to five centimetres. The potential customer base therefore not only includes agricultural businesses, but also farming contractors. They can document and prove the quality of their work using the sensor platform.

The effort required for the farmers should be as manageable as possible, "otherwise they will not be able to integrate it into their everyday life, and the system will not be used," reported Fehmke Böckenhauer. She and Ties Junge have established contacts with agricultural businesses to test the technology and are supporting the emerging founders with their measurements. This gives them many suggestions from potential customers. "With the help of our data, the farmers receive an overview of the quality and quantity of their silage. This knowledge enables them to better plan their feed. For example, excess silage can be sold at an early stage," continued Böckenhauer. To date, the consumption of silage is determined manually, for example by markings on the silo walls; only a few large companies have a weighbridge, which the tractor drives over with the harvested material to determine how much is added to a silo.

Since June this year, Silolytics has received funding through an EXIST Business Start-up Grant from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The application is still in the development phase. During this phase, the three team members are dependent on the harvest cycles, because they are testing and calibrating during running operations. "Everything has been delayed by the coronavirus, otherwise we would already have measurements from the grass harvest in May," reported the agricultural scientist. The first version of the product should be ready for the market by the next grass harvest in May 2021. Work on this is progressing in the incubator at the Centre for Entrepreneurship (ZfE). The team received support from the ZfE staff with their funding application, and is receiving further support during the current phase.

Author: Christin Beeck