Born in the UK to Irish parents, Dr. Jack Behan freely admits to having used university studies to escape working on the family pig farm. It also gave him the opportunity to learn about agriculture in a more structured environment, and to ground himself in theory that built on the lessons he had learned at home. Upon completion of his PhD at London’s Royal Veterinary College, he took an interest in using technology to improve outcomes in livestock operations. The CEO of Alpha Phenomics, and project lead of the CAAIN-supported Utilisation of 3-D Real-Time Multispectral Cameras to Identify the Liveweight, Optimal Slaughter Weight, and Carcass Weight in Pre-Slaughter Cattle, puts it this way. “I’ve spent my entire career researching and developing ways to innovate animal-based agriculture to the benefit of individual farmers and the sector as a whole. Everything starts and finishes with return on investment, so if you can find ways to improve productivity while reducing costs, you can make a tangible difference to the lives of individuals whose hard work puts food on our tables. I speak from personal experience.”

In 2018, Jack was asked to consult for a massive pork farming operation in China. The project yielded interesting results, in addition to bolstering productivity, profitability, and animal welfare through the introduction of a diverse suite of the latest agricultural technologies. Particularly noteworthy were two realizations. The first was an understanding of the growing role genomics were going to take in the livestock sector. The second, was that taking a high-tech approach to agri-food productivity may be a partial solution to reversing the trend of increasing labour shortages. Specifically, using AgTech seems to make the sector more interesting to young people, many of whom are turning away from traditional agriculture as a career choice.

Following the successful completion of his work in Asia, Jack was contemplating a year off when a friend and colleague at the University of Alberta, Dr. Graham Plastow, enticed him to come to Canada to take advantage of funding available to conduct promising cattle genomics research. This led to the founding of Alpha Phenomics whose core activity would be to pool and distil the efforts of geneticists, genomics specialists, engineers capable of creating imaging from captured data, biostatisticians, and veterinarians. The focus was on using multispectral camera imaging, 3D avatars, and infrared to develop a set of predictive tools that would add significant value to the beef sector by providing accurate, real-time assessment of cattle growth, body fat, and carcass composition, as well as beef industry-specific information on the health and wellbeing of cattle.

The intelligent automated collection and use of such data are keys to understanding what is produced and what is thrown away, allowing players along the supply chain to reduce waste, cost, and carbon emissions, thereby improving the competitiveness and sustainability of Canada’s beef producers. The resulting improved social licence and profitability will benefit the entire industry—consider that a 1% increase in beef feed efficiency at the pasture level would return $11 million to the sector.

The project also supports some of the goals identified in the 2020-2024 National Beef Strategy’s four pillars of beef production.

Pillar Supported Goals
Demand Improve AAA cutout[1] by 2 percentage points
Competitiveness N/A
Productivity Improve calf crop by 2 percentage points &
Reduce average calf death losses to 5%
Connectivity N/A

Utilisation of 3-D Real-Time Multispectral Cameras…will advance the development, value, and use of automation, blockchain, and artificial intelligence within Canada’s beef industry. This will, in turn, increase and improve sector-wide data collection and sharing, the net result of which will be to optimize production and minimize waste and loss.

When asked what CAAIN funding has meant to his project, Jack does not hesitate. “In addition to raising our profile and connecting us to a terrific cross-Canada network, the support has allowed us the reach the pre-commercialization stage with a viable product and IP whose collective value exceeds $20M. That’s a three-year turnaround that almost defies belief when you consider that the pandemic almost wiped us out. The hardware, firmware, and software you helped us develop will become a cost-effective, cutting-edge tool that will provide cattle ranchers with significant ROI at a time when the industry needs it the most.”

CAAIN Contribution

Total Project Value

[1] Beef cutout represents the value of a carcass based on the value of individual cuts.

Project Contact
Dr. Jack Behan
CEO, Alpha Phenomics