In one of three 5G farming trials taking place across England, Somerset cows are wearing super connected collars and biometric ear tags.

American technology company Cisco program '5G RuralFirst' is being trialled at the government-funded Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre, or Agri-EPI Centre.

The Somerset trial is one of three 5G test beds that are focussed on the potential for 5G technology in rural communities, with another testing driverless farm vehicles in Shropshire and a third in the Orkney Islands. Funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the project has just received funding for a further six months trial.

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The South West Dairy Development Centre at Shepton Mallet in Somerset

5G promises internet speeds between 50 to 100 times faster than current 4G systems, that can handle much more multiple usage without slowing technologies down.

The centre's brand new green field Dairy unit sports 180 dairy cows in a highly automated state of the art housing that combines with precision grazing. The use of the technology is allowing the unit to allocate grazing as accurately as they would allocate feed.

The collars sported by the cows facilitate self milking and their health-monitoring ear tags can transmit biometric data and help workers monitor the herd from afar. 5G drones are also being used to transmit grazing data.

Although at this stage they are using the 5G mostly within existing technology within the trial, they are finding that the ability to apply the technology to it's intended usage is vastly different. The farmers at the centre have been able to respond instantly to data produced by the collars, enabling them to make instant decisions that directly effect the health of the animals.

Long term, 5G should make the technologies that they are trialling at the Centre, currently only available to the lucky few, much more widely accessible to farmers.

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Duncan Forbes

Duncan Forbes, who heads the centre in Somerset said: "The technology will enable farmers to better look after their stock and themselves."

"Once the opportunities are opened up we will be able to accelerate the use of data across farming, using ten times more than we are now."

For those concerned about whether the technology will effect staffing, Duncan said: "it is not about reducing staffing. It's about cutting down on the time it takes to do all the things that farmers already do and make all the measurements that they already make, and to make these easier.

"For example, animal health information could be sent automatically straight to the animal's vet or nutrition information to a nutritionist."