Sunrise UPC supports companies in their digital transformation and offers Switzerland’s largest and fastest 5G network in addition to powerful fibre optic networks. New mobile standards like 5G or NarrowBand Internet of Things (IoT) open an endless spectrum of innovations for companies. 

Digitization in agriculture is an area of focus for Sunrice UPC – modern technologies, like 5G, are ensuring that farming is becoming smarter and therefore more sustainable and efficient. An array of pilot projects demonstrates the benefits farmers can expect when data, drones, GPS, and similar technologies interact with animals and plants. 

SmartBreed, an agricultural technology start-up, was founded in 2019 by brothers Christoph, Patrik and Adrian Bertschi in the garage of their parents’ home in Zufikon. The company sells intelligently networked boxes for the automated breeding of grasshoppers that serve as protein-rich feed for animals. The three co-founders are offering agricultural companies worldwide a sustainable alternative to soy-based animal feed. 

By 2024, ten percent of soy-based animal feed in Switzerland is set to be replaced by grasshoppers. (Rainforests in South America are often cleared to make way for soy cultivation for animal feed.) An additional benefit to feeding hens with insects is that it keeps the animals occupied. Eating live insects encourages the chickens to dig and hunt and provides for variety in the enclosure.  

To keep pace with low-priced soy production, grasshopper breeding also needs to be efficient. When the brothers started, the grasshoppers took nine weeks to grow to maturity in the prototype box. SmartBreed has reduced the growth phase to three weeks with the aid of digital technologies.

“Shortening their growth time was only possible due to the IoT,” says co-founder Patrik Bertschi (pictured below left). The networked boxes continuously monitor temperature, humidity, CO2 values and independently regulate the microclimate, feeding and day-night rhythm. This creates optimal rearing conditions, so that the insects experience a healthy, rapid growth. 

Christoph Bertschi (pictured below right) expects the growth time to be further reduced to two weeks by using image recognition and artificial intelligence (AI). He adds, “We work with rural operations. And since we rely on a stable connection, 5G is an exciting option.” 

Smart Breed founders

The idea of SmartBreed can be expanded and could be used in feeds for pigs. The aim is also to breed mealworms, and this is likely to attract great interest from aquaculture representatives. 

SmartBreed is supported by investors and institutions such as the Swiss Climate Foundation, Innosuisse, ETH Zurich and the University of St. Gallen.

(Pictures: Michael Sonderegger)