Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – In a new collaboration, students from Dairy Herd Management, a spring 2019 class in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, teamed up with students in Topics in Cloud Computing, in Computing and Information Science, to learn how to work together to develop the kinds of digital tools that could reshape farming.

Colby Castle, an animal science major who grew up on a cattle ranch, had heard of facial recognition for cows but never imagined how close the technology was to being widely used – or that he could have a role in developing it.

“Instead of having to go out and walk the entire pen looking for a certain cow, a mobile phone could tell you where to find her. I thought that’d be pretty cool,” said Castle. “It would be a very useful app, especially on larger dairies.”

Castle and his classmates took around 10,000 photos of cows for the computer science students, who created software that would allow farmers to use smartphones to find specific cows, guided by cameras in the barn. Other ideas included using cameras in milking stations to monitor cows for injured hoofs or dirty udders, to anticipate and treat potential problems before they become serious.

“I never thought about agriculture and animal science before, but I think now that [computing] is changing the industry,” said Tian Ren, a computer science student whose team project aimed to predict cow pregnancies. “I’ve heard farmers say these kinds of tools really help them and they really appreciate them, so I think we’re doing something meaningful.”

The classes are collaborating as part of the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, an effort partially funded by Microsoft. Microsoft provided the students access to its Azure cloud computing service, as well as training to understand some of its main features.

“It gives the students a very concrete way to think about the applications, and it really helps them think through the entire sequence, from the sensors collecting data to the knowledge they’re trying to give back to the farmer,” said Ken Birman, the N. Rama Rao Professor of Computer Science and instructor of Topics in Cloud Computing.

As the technology evolves, these kinds of tools are expected to vastly improve farming efficiency – making large farms more sustainable and small farms more profitable.

“Whether in the dairy or in the field, technology is transforming agriculture. Our students are getting chances to work on apps that can improve cow health, help farmers work more efficiently, and even to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizer by only applying pesticide where an infestation is happening or only fertilizing where they need to. The impact will be huge,” Birman said. “Farmers need help from technology, and we want Cornell students to be participants in creating those technologies.”

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.