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Pilot project: use of sensors to improve pig productivity

By Rachel Norman and Jason Adair

We were delighted to receive funding from the Internet of Food things Network which allows us to apply statistical and machine learning methods to sensor datfrom a pig farm. We are based in the Computing Science and Mathematics Department (CS&M) at the University of Stirling

( . Within Stirling we have Rachel Norman (@AFSRachel who is Professor of Food Security and Sustainability, Richard Connor ( who is Professor of Computing Science and our postdoc Jason Adair ( . We are working with collaborators at the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) in Edinburgh ( and the Scottish Pig Producers association (

Whilst much of the research in CS&M is interdisciplinary in nature, this is the first time we have worked with the pig sector, and so this project gives us an excellent opportunity to learn more about this production system. We started out with a meeting at the Agri-Epi centre in which we discussed all of the types and sources of data available at one of their satellite pig farms. This ranges from high tech data from state-of-the-art 3D cameras which estimate pig weight, to handwritten bits of paper which record the average batch weights at two points in their growth cycle. It also includes environmental data from sensors in the sheds which record temperature, humidity and ammonia levels; data on what and how much they eat each day; abattoir data on the weight and quality of each of the 180 carcasses produced each week, and data from the farm’s very own weather station. This meeting was followed quickly by a _very_ early morning run up to the farm to see what the data looked like in the flesh.

Rachel and pig
Rachel meeting one of the farm’s youngest residents

It was great to have the opportunity to ask lots of questions about how data is currently used on the farm, and what we could do to help. So, although it is early days, we are looking forward to collating the data from different sources and trying to decide whether the sensors could be used as a management as well as a monitoring tool. It’s early days but it certainly won’t be boaring!

Three Pilot Projects Launched to Showcase Cutting Edge Agri-Food Research in the UK

The Internet of Food Things Network Plus has funded three pilot projects designed to drive Internet of Things innovation in agri-food production.

A total of £150,000 has been awarded to the University of Aberdeen, the University of Stirling and the University of Nottingham for projects related to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the agri-food industry. The projects will last for six months and preliminary findings will be presented at the Internet of Food Things Network Plus Conference in September.

Professor Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, said: “Food production is a significant and critical sector. These three diverse projects take forward the vision of the network to harness the benefits of cross-cutting research for the benefit of the UK’s agri-food industries.”

The University of Aberdeen was successful in their application for funding with their project “PROoFD IT!: Provenance of Food Delivery through IoT” which will explore the potential of IoT devices to enhance food safety in B2B and B2C food delivery contexts.

Principal Investigator Professor Peter Edwards said: “IoT technologies have real potential to transform the food industry; but we need to be careful about what data we collect, how we represent it, and where we store it in order to maximise its potential. In this pilot project, we are bringing together bleeding edge technologies for IoT sensing, semantic data representation and blockchain business networks to explore future possibilities for safer and trusted food deliveries.”

The University of Stirling was also successful with their project “Use of sensors to improve pig productivity” which will seek to identify ways in which data can be used to enhance efficient and sustainable pig farming.

Principal Investigator Professor Rachel Norman, Chair in Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Stirling, said: "The University of Stirling is delighted to be involved in this project, which provides us with the opportunity to use data science to gain an invaluable insight into pig productivity. Ultimately, it will allow us to explore how we can transform this data - currently used purely as a monitoring tool - into a management tool."

The University of Nottingham was also chosen to receive funding for their project “IoT enhanced Factory Cleaning” which will investigate how data and IoT technologies can be used to detect the presence of allergens and enhance the cleaning of food factories

Principal Investigator Dr Nicholas Watson stated “The IoFT feasibility project will enable the University of Nottingham to investigate some of the opportunities and challenges of using data, machine learning and other digital manufacturing technologies in the critical area of food and drink factory cleaning. We will be working closely with manufacturers ranging from SME to multinational to discover the role these technologies will play in future cleaning operations.”

The three pilot projects will be presenting their preliminary findings at the Internet of Food Things Network Plus Conference in September in Lincoln which is being held from the 17th to the 19th of September. Topics will include data trusts, digital technologies and new economic models for the digitalised food production supply chain. The next funding call for up to £50,000 per project will also be announced. For registration and further details please visit


Graphical capture from: Digital technologies for improving productivity in food manufacturing. A joint event from The Internet of Food Things Network Plus and the Centre for SMART. Held at Loughborough University London on 2nd April, 2019

The Centre for SMART at Loughborough University collaborated with the Internet of Food Things Network Plus to host an event that targeted players in the food manufacturing industry, as well as policy makers, and aimed to provide attendees with the opportunity to learn from companies and technology providers on best practices to successfully implement current digital technologies in food manufacturing and to discuss policy and regulatory challenges to the uptake of such technologies within the UK Food Sector.

A full report will be available later, but this drawing was produced by Becky James from Natalka Design who was commissioned to capture the complexity of the presentations and discussions that took place at the event.

We therefore acknowledge the contribution that all attendees at the event made to this illustration.

The 2019 Conference registration is now open.

Further information on the event is available

The Internet of Food Things Network Plus has been established by EPSRC to champion interdisciplinary research into the technologies and business models that will enable the digitalisation of the food production supply chain. This conference brings together the people and ideas that have been part of the first phase of the project. Please do join us to learn more about these activities and we hope join us for the journey ahead.

We are pleased to announce the launch of the 2019 pilot projects funding call. The deadline for applications is 15 February 2019.

The Internet of Food Things Network Plus was set up by EPSRC to stimulate and coordinate inter-disciplinary research into the digital transformation of the food production and supply chain through the application of new technologies such as IoT, AI, smart packaging, blockchain, new business models, and other forms of innovation. A key instrument in achieving this is our pilot projects funding calls.

The application form is available on the website: Application Form.

However, please ready the guidance notes carefully first. Individual projects can request up to £40,000 total funding (total spend up to £50,000 as per FEC 80% funding).

The priority areas for applications are as follows:

  1. New business models, applications of new technologies (including internet of things
    (IoT), distributed ledger technology (DLT)), to underpin traceability and optimal
    transfer flows throughout the food chain. This could include regulations, standards,
    cyber/physical security and other aspects of resilience.
  2. Wide scale application of the internet of things (IoT) for the service community, for
    example, the secure deployment and use of IoT by commercial and domestic users
    (refrigerators, cooking devices, etc) to improve efficiency and reduce health hazards
    or waste.
  3. The development of new digital labelling and packaging protocols that assist with
    consumer understanding and use of food, as well as the management of the supply
  4. The use of novel digital technologies (e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence and
    vision) to reduce food waste by optimising whole supply chains from producer to

Key dates

  • Deadline for applications 15th February 2019 (Forms should be submitted by e-mail to the admin team at
  • Successful applicants will be notified by 8th March 2019
  • Successful projects starting by 1st May subject to contracts.
  • Projects to present their projects at the IoFT Conference in Lincoln in September 2019
  • Completion should be by 1st November.


For further information on the Internet of Food Things Network Plus visit:
Please contact the IoFT Network+ administrator ( with any queries.