“Farming is hard and dairy farmers are concerned with the health of their heard and the profitability of their operation, and today they do not have the info they need to make critical decisions when they need to. But SomaDetect changes this,” Bethany Deshpande, co-founder of SomaDetect, told attendees at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! pitch slam in New York City earlier this month.
She explained that SomaDetect “is two pieces of magic working together:” an inline optical sensor system and deep-learning algorithms or artificial intelligence that fits into existing dairy equipment. Combined, the sensor is able to use light scattering technology to determine the major compounds in raw milk while the artificial intelligence component finds and “reads” patterns and connections in the data set to help farmers assess the quality of the milk as well as the health of their herd.
Specifically, the system tracks fat content, protein content, trace antibiotics and the reproductive hormone progesterone, which allows farmers to not only produce and market higher quality milk, but also identify earlier diseases such as sub-clinical and clinical mastitis, ketosis and acidosis, Deshpande said.
“By identifying two of the top five diseases in dairy earlier, we can react to the diseases quicker – essentially treating a cold rather than a case of pneumonia, which means we can have healthier cows that live longer lives,” she explained.
By measuring progesterone, the technology also can help farmers better manage reproduction and herd turnover, which can be a major challenge on the farm, she said.
“This disrupts the status quo of taking samples from individual cows, running them in a lab and sending the reports back several days later,” she added. “Instead, SomaDetect is designed to fit into existing dairy equipment and provide automated measurements from every cow and every milking” in real time.
Benefits for farmers’ bottom-line
These benefits not only can improve the health of the herd, but also farmer’s financial health, Deshpande said.
“Using this system, farmers will gain an additional $700 per cow, adding up to more than $140,000 per year for an average farm of 200 cows,” she said.
This is enough offset the cost of installing the system with plenty of money to spare within the first year, she added.
“We sell our equipment for $2,500 per sensor as well as a recurring fee of $5 per cow per month for data and analytics. For the average size farm with 20 milking stalls and 200 cows, the first year costs for this system are $52,000,” she said.
Early industry support
While the company has yet to mass-produce its technology, Deshpande said that SomaDetect has major market traction with more than 175 signed letters of intent to purchase and as of April 2018 had sold 350 sensors to about 27 farms.
In addition, the young company has support from dairy organizations and leaders throughout the US, including the Dairy Farmers of America, which is the largest co-op of dairy farmers in the country, representing about 8,00 farmers. DFA also is an investor in the business.
In total, Deshpande estimates that SomaDetect’s patent protected technology has an addressable market of $3 billion in Canada and the US and more than $31 billion worldwide.
“We are on track to grow quickly and currently we are evaluating several potential partnerships to market, install and service the technology,” Deshpande said.
To seize the potential of this traction the startup will begin its Series A fundraise in 2019 to help it manufacturer and install more sensors more quickly, she said.
Ultimately, she added, “SomaDetect is the future of a sustainable and traceable dairy quality system. We are better data for farmers, better milk for consumers and better minds for cows.”