Virtual fencing tech has ‘benefits for the environment, biodiversity and farmer welfare’: Nofence

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Nofence uses GPS technology to control animals through a collar and an app. Image: Nofence
Nofence uses GPS technology to control animals through a collar and an app. Image: Nofence

Related tags cattle farming Startups biodiversity

Fenceless farming offers a wide range of benefits for the environment, biodiversity and farmer welfare, says Norwegian company Nofence, which offers virtual fencing for grazing cattle.

Containing livestock using fences is an integral part of modern agriculture and the practical animal management benefits are obvious. However, a review paper published in Frontiers in 2021​ outlined the potential advantages of fenceless farms. They can, among other things, improve production; control livestock movement; and improve grazing land health and the environment.

The paper added that fenceless farms – underpinned by digital maps and automated livestock management technologies – might also improve the food supply chain to better connect the food grower with the food supplier, thus creating new products with unique selling points that consumers are willing to pay for.

So while there is currently little evidence to indicate what the economic or practical costs and benefits will be for virtual fencing, the paper noted, it said new innovative technology solutions like virtual fencing have the potential to create new and unimagined value.

Solutions do exist on the market. The Norwegian company Nofence promotes itself as the world’s first virtual-fence company.

Innovation is ‘the future of sustainable farming’

Nofence uses technology to control animals through a collar and an app. This technology relies on GPS to install an invisible barrier, or ‘virtual fence’, which controls where livestock can graze without the need for a physical barrier. The company claimed the app is very convenient and straightforward for farmers to use. They can quickly draw new grazing areas with the swipe of a finger and check in on the location and movement of each animal 24/7.

According to John Smout, Senior Sales Manager at Nofence, innovative, technological solutions are increasingly sought after in sustainable agriculture to overcome and address challenges and risks related to climate change, food security and economic uncertainty.

Nofence’s virtual fencing technology provides a wide range of benefits for the environment, biodiversity and farmer welfare, he said.

“By eliminating the need for physical barriers, Nofence contributes to improved soil health and nutrient recycling. Where traditional fencing often leads to land fragmentation and habitat displacement, virtual fencing helps to maintain and restore natural landscapes by providing access to areas previously inaccessible to grazing animals such as conservation zones. It is also more flexible in terms of rapidly responding to the external environment, as livestock is easily steered to new and safe areas.”

More effective grassland management

As an efficient and flexible means of land management, virtual fencing also leads to better production and utilisation of grassland, he claimed. For example, the Nofence technology monitors the livestock's location and behavior in real time allowing farmers to rotate their herd more effectively. As farm animals graze, they aerate the soil by trampling their hooves and bury organic matter into the ground creating benefits across the ecological chain. “Unlike traditional fencing, Nofence technology enables animals to graze more evenly, reducing soil compaction and degradation leading to healthier pastures and better grassland utilisation. This also has the added benefit of protecting our water sources by preventing contamination and erosion without the need for physical fencing.” 

Benefits for farmer welfare

Furthermore, virtual fencing is more labour efficient, giving farmers greater control and flexibility over their day-to-day activities. “It offers farmers peace of mind without the need to continuously monitor their land, meaning more time to take care of their health and spend time with loved ones.” In​ addition, the monitoring capabilities of the technology can help build a database of insights on grazing patterns, external stimuli, biodiversity levels and soil quality. This “empowers farmers to make decisions based on accurate and reliable data”,​ observed Smout.

Of course there are challenges in adopting new technology. The system might not work if there is limited mobile coverage. If an animal steps beyond the virtual boundary, the collar emits an audio warning, then an electric pulse. Animals therefore need to be trained for around a week to learn to respond to the audio warning. Calves, kids, and lambs must have reached an adequate physical size before they start wearing the collars. There is an up-front cost with Nofence collars plus a monthly subscription for the use of the service.

But Nofence stressed that thanks to the benefits for biodiversity, soil health, animal welfare, productivity and land management, the technology is a sound investment in a farmer's business and their cattle. Smout concluded: “By eliminating the need for physical fencing and promoting precision grazing, Nofence technology helps us to preserve biodiversity, reduce land fragmentation, and promote a better work-life balance for farmers. Moreover, the technological advancements and materials used in the production of these devices could offer a cost-efficient future for agriculture.”

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