Evonik has acquired Belgian big data software provider Porphyrio

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Evonik
© Evonik
Evonik says it has completed the acquisition of Belgium’s Porphyrio, a KU Leuven spin-off delivering big data technology for poultry production to help farmers better manage, predict, and optimize their operations.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the sale price. 

That deal, finalized on October 31, comes on the back of the announcement last week that Evonik had invested in OPTIfarm, a UK firm that provides 24/7 support and service for poultry producers aiming at better animal welfare, and improved livestock performance.

The amino acid producer also revealed last month that it had taken a minority stake in Dutch biotechnology start-up, In Ovo, a company focused on quick and reliable gender determination of chicken embryos in the egg to ensure the poultry farming industry can avoid the killing of male chicks.

Evonik released its Q3 2018 financial results yesterday [November 6]. It reported that, overall, sales grew 7% to €3.8bn, while adjusted EBITDA rose 8% to €692m. It noted that market conditions for essential amino acids for animal nutrition, especially methionine, remained robust. Amino acid sales volumes developed positively and were significantly higher than in the prior-year quarter, it added. 

"Porphyrio is a leading big data management software provider in the Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) space, which is an important growth pillar for Evonik Animal Nutrition,"​ said a spokesperson for the German group, commenting on the rationale for the latest investment.

Big data and self-learning algorithms could help producers to gain a better understanding of the complex events in the poultry farm, while linking back to concepts for sustainable animal nutrition, says Dr Emmanuel Auer, head of Evonik’s animal nutrition business, in a release. 

Evonik would contribute to this at various levels, he continued, by providing diagnostic kits to record parameters for the animals’ state of health, software, data analysis and guidance for livestock farming, as well as data- and knowledge-based recommendations for feed composition and sustainable diets.

Digital trend in poultry farming

European poultry farms are growing in scale, and number of barns on site. The farmers are becoming more professional, they are increasingly relying on remote analysis of performance due to the size of their farms and the multiple houses. Consequently, poultry farmers are requesting more in depth advice from feed advisors, said Joost Sparla, marketing and technical director for poultry at Dutch feed group, ForFarmers, when we spoke to him at VIV Europe in June this year.

And he said digital technology has the potential to really transform feed manufacturing and, subsequently, on-farm poultry production.

However, he stressed that for technology to be useful in this sector, essentially, it should be about making information more readily understood, less obscure, so that stakeholders have concrete evidence about what is happening on a broiler or layer farm.

“You don’t automatically see a solution if you have a single graph or a single table. You cannot draw a conclusion on that. You need to develop an algorithm to make the data more visible.”

The end goal is to connect feed production parameters with performance in the barns. Feed production processes can be optimized based on the outcome, he said.

“Feed production parameters can be, for example, the hardness or durability of a pellet, the amount of steam used, the amount of energy used [in the production process]. You could have a clearer view on how those parameters [physical form, quality] interact with performance on the farms if you have the data available and can connect them with each other.”

Crucially, there must be value for the farmer or they will not share their data, he stressed. While it is nice to collect data, unless you do something with it, carry out the proper analysis, it is worthless, he added.

“We have lots and lots of data in every feed mill. We have farm data but we have no connection between the two. Making that happen is our focus point for the next year. We have just started to analyze pellet quality in this context."

ForFarmers has been relying on Porphyrio’s Smart Farm Assistant to collate on-farm data, he said.

“The data collection on production and raw materials has been an ongoing process at ForFarmers. We started on-farm data collection with Porphyrio a year and half ago. While we did have, prior to that, a system to collect farm data - Agroscope - that only measures historical data, it is not a real-time information tool and there are no algorithms behind it to make predictions about the health of a flock. With the use of Smart Farm Assistant, which is backed by self-learning algorithms, you can act during a flock cycle. [With that tool] we can see on a daily basis how the flock is performing and our advisors may get an orange or red warning [signal] whereby they have to act, and contact the farmer to let them know something is going wrong in the barn.”

“We need to still be a partner for those type of farmers and we need to be able to add value."

He said it is now about ensuring farmers have the best information available to support them to take the most effective decisions.

"We want to ensure farmers have greater efficiency, healthier livestock and better returns. One way we are doing that is through products, of course, and we are training our staff to be best in class. The third aspect is through performance but if you don’t measure performance on the farm, you cannot improve it. In that way, to support the farmer in the optimal way, the collection of the data and the proper analysis of that data with follow up action [based on the findings] is critical.”

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