BOSTON – One drop of milk can reveal a lot about a cow, says Julia Somerdin, CEO and co-founder of Labby Inc. of Boston. Her company has developed technology that can measure in real time the fat and protein content as well as somatic-cell count of each drop of milk.
Dairy farmers can determine milk quality and animal-health problems at their farms using a smartphone device that combines Labby’s optical spectroscopy and cloud-based analytics.
“We’re developing real-time raw-milk-monitoring solutions for farmers to improve milk production and profitability,” Somerdin said.
Labby was one of the agricultural-technology companies selected for the 2019 Dairy Farmers of America Accelerator, which helps mentor entrepreneurs with new ideas for improving dairy-producer profitability. Through the accelerator leaders from Dairy Farmers of America, CoBank, Sprint and other businesses provide mentorships as well as networking and other resources to help young businesses. The program provides training on products, brands, marketing and entrepreneurship. It also offers assistance with pilot projects and potential sponsorships.
“Dairy Farmers of America provided us an opportunity to work with Dairy One to improve our data-model accuracy,” Somerdin said. “That’s been instrumental in helping speed our time to market. Better prepared and equipped, we’re planning on launching more pilot projects in the next six months.”
Based in Ithaca, New York, Dairy One cooperative is comprised of about 4,500 dairy-farmer members in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic areas. Dairy One provides farming solutions as well as analytical services such as milk analysis.
“We would embrace next-generation technology rather than being passively disrupted,” said Jamie Zimmerman, Dairy One’s CEO and general manager.
Labby’s technology features a spectroscope function that sends a beam of light through milk. That light interacts with the milk to send signals back to a receiver, which compares it to a pre-calibrated milk sample for quality comparison. The device also enables farmers to identify health problems such as mastitis. Cows often show no visual symptoms of mastitis or are overlooked, Somerdin said.
An average case of clinical mastitis can result in an economic loss of $444, according to a study by Dr. Emmanuel Rollin, veterinarian and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia-College of Veterinary Medicine. Subclinical mastitis can result in overall production losses of $110 per cow annually, according to a study by Pamela Ruegg, formerly a professor of physiology and management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s dairy-science department.
“A case of subclinical mastitis may result in 10 (percent) to 20 percent less milk produced per lactation, per cow per year,” Somerdin said. “Our technology can save up to $142,000 per 1,000 cows, which doesn’t include savings from early detection of ketosis.”
Real-time milk monitoring also can help to measure feed efficiency for each cow, she said. A daily fat-to-protein ratio can help a farmer adjust feed rations to maximize production.
“Some farmers we’ve worked with are actively looking at innovative technology to help them stay ahead,” she said.
Mark Duffy owns and operates Great Brook Farm near Carlisle, Massachusetts. He milks about 65 cows using a robotic-milking system. Milk from his cows is made into cheese by Cabot Creamery Cooperative, owned by dairy farmers in New England and by Agri-Mark. Duffy is a director on the board of Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative that annually markets more than 370 million gallons of milk for more than 850 dairy-farm families in New England and New York. Labby’s technology has the potential to help dairy farmers, Duffy said.
“I’d like to be able to better spot sick or under-performing cows and divert their milk away from the tank,” he said.
Data collected from milk samples can be stored locally or sent to the cloud. Labby offers its milk-analysis solutions as a subscription service; farmers can keep the information or share it.
“We’re well aware of the importance of data security,” Somerdin said. “We adopt the latest enterprise-grade data encryption and access-verification technology to ensure data is secure. We also believe data should be shared in a value-driven way to better predict and prevent animal disease and supply-chain risks.”
Labby Inc. was co-founded three years ago by Somerdin and Anshuman Das, the company’s chief technology officer. The two met while working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The core of Labby’s technology is based on three years of research that Das conducted in mobile spectroscopy. Somerdin has a master’s of business degree as well as a master’s degree in system design and management.
“It’s a great honor to be part of the accelerator program,” Somerdin said. “Dairy Farmers of America and the entire team not only organized workshops that cover every aspect of entrepreneurship, they also care about the success of the accelerator participants. We received one-on-one coaching and guidance, which helped us take a deep look from the market-fit perspective – and clarify our value proposition for the farmers and dairy cooperatives. We came out as more prepared and better positioned in the marketplace.”