Thai startup UpSquare Technology offers smart digital solutions for layer farms to help raise productivity and detect production issues in real time, writes PAYUNGSAK WIRIYABUNDITKUL.
Pisut Khungkamano, co-founder of UpSquare Technology, has a background in information technology (IT) and worked in a number of data centers for local companies before taking the lead in the family business, a layer farm in Songkhla province.
Pond Rattaphum farm started operations in 1974 and Mr Pisut’s parents, like many farmers, went through many challenges to manage the business.
When he took over, Mr Pisut parlayed his IT knowledge to modernize the business. He realized that using IT solutions could be a business opportunity, one that could help his farm and other layer farms that might need digitalization.
“I think other farmers also have to go through trial and error. So, my older brother and I decided to use technology to help them. Data is king and IoT and precision farming will raise productivity and prevent potential damage,” Mr Pisut told Asian Agribiz.
A meeting of two worlds
UpSquare invested USD 4.8 million in Internet of Things (IoT) equipment, new chicken houses, and an egg grading facility. Sensors in the layer houses monitor temperature, light, water, machines, and other conditions. The system sends information to the cloud and the customer’s mobile application.
In this, he has a unique advantage: many suppliers may offer IoT sensors and devices but not have agriculture knowledge while farmers have agriculture knowledge, but not know how to use IoT to their advantage.
“My strong point is that I have both agriculture and IT knowledge. I understand pain points experienced by farmers including productivity, production, and hardware issues,” Mr Pisut said.
Many small-scale farmers cannot afford to hire specialists and experts at the farm, he said. They also face problems such as disease outbreaks, problems with feed intake, production and egg quality problems, as well as electrical and mechanical issues.
Meanwhile, layer houses are equipped with production systems including evaporative cooling systems, feeding and watering systems, and house lighting.
“We install IoT to monitor all these production systems in the layer house. The digital tools will enable farmers to understand what they are doing. For example, it will allow farmers to know whether a proper environment is maintained or not,” he said.
The technology is part of a precision farming concept, which is a management strategy that processes and analyzes data to support decisions.
UpSquare’s smart solutions include sensors that monitor everything. There is a sensor to monitor temperature inside and outside the house. With the company’s software, temperature data will be uploaded to the cloud, which will then send the data into a smartphone app.
Other sensors record electrical issues, including bills, as well as feeding schedules while others control lighting or monitor equipment status.
“These will record and monitor production efficiency in the layer houses, and provide productivity and production cost reports,” Mr Pisut said.
The productivity report will provide data such as daily egg output, average egg weight, daily feed and water consumption — even the number of dead chickens.
UpSquare’s system offers a detailed account of production costs, said Mr Pisut. He explained that while farmers know feed and labor costs, they usually do not know how much electricity each layer house uses, they only know the farm’s total electricity costs.
But UpSquare’s production cost report provides detailed electricity bills for each house. This is important because farmers can adjust their operation at a specific house and compare device performance in each house.
Moreover, UpSquare’s software also watches out for faulty equipment and will send an instant message to farmers’ smartphones. “For example, when cooling fans are broken, temperature will rise and this will have negative impact on layer growth and performance. With our system, farmers will know the problems immediately and can solve them in a timely manner,” he said.
Asian Agribiz’s Layer Feed Quality Conference is going virtual in May. Each three-hour session will be streamed over three consecutive Wednesdays on May 11, 18, and 25, 2022. Read the full program here.
Subscription business model
Farms interested in UpSquare’s system can choose between two business options. In the first option, the company sells and installs the equipment at the houses and farmers manage the equipment by themselves.
The second option is a subscription service. Meaning, the company installs the equipment for free and farmers pay a recurring monthly fee. It will calculate the fee based on the number of layers. For example, farmers with 10,000 layers will pay USD 150 a month for a starter kit package.
UpSquare employs specialists in veterinary and layer equipment to monitor and track clients’ layer houses 24/7 to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Some big farms have expressed interest in the subscription service, as they do not have employees to monitor the houses 24 hours a day. The option is also suitable for smaller farms, because it does not require a huge capital outlay.
Meanwhile, UpSquare is building a model farm in Songkhla province with six layer houses, an egg grading facility, and an organic fertilizer plant. Once finished, farmers can see for themselves how the IoT system works. “This will build trust among farmers and clients,” said Mr Pisut.
Branding and marketing
While the digital side of the business takes up much of his time, Mr Pisut is a second-generation owner, with a farm to manage. Pond Rattaphum is a big operation, with 40,000 layers and produces 30,000 eggs/day.
While many Thais still view eggs as a commodity, he thinks that producers should invest in branding and marketing to differentiate their products.
“We have created a brand story to differentiate our eggs from others,” he said.
Quality fresh eggs are produced at its digitally enabled smart farm. Mr Pisut enlists key influencers, such as famous restaurants and bakeries in the south to use its eggs and share the brand story.
However, despite the business’s success, Mr Pisut and his farm are also affected by the layer industry’s challenging business environment. High raw material prices, especially of corn and soybean meal, and low egg prices have cut into the profits of many layer farms.
“Feed costs increased significantly. Some small farmers in central and southern regions quit the industry. Some temporarily suspended production, as small farms buy smaller amounts of feed at higher prices,” he said.
With UpSquare’s technology platform, Mr Pisut hopes to help farmers reduce production costs and improve productivity amid a tough business climate.