Agtech company SomaDetect has closed a $6 million venture capital round led by Ag Tech Canada, and intends to use the funds to accelerate adoption of its sensor technology that monitors the health of dairy herds.

As well as the Tillsonburg, Ont.- based private equity fund Ag Tech Canada, the funders participating in the round are Merck Animal Health Ventures, Builders VC and Wilbur Ellis’ Cavallo Ventures.

SomaDetect said it will use the new capital to accelerate the roll out of its sensor-based technology that assesses cows’ milk quality, reproductive status and health.

“It’s a huge milestone for our business and it’s wonderful to see investors and this group come together,” said SomaDetect Co-Founder and CEO Bethany Deshpande in an interview.

SomaDetect has previously raised millions of dollars in equity funding from such investors as the Dairy Farmers of America and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. A year ago, the company received a $3.9 million grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Founded in New Brunswick in 2016, SomaDetect combines readings from its sensors with deep-learning algorithm and visualization software to assess the health of each cow in a herd in real-time. Until now, it has taken so long to assess the health of a cow that a disease could become fatal by the time it was identified, the company said.

More recently, the technology has been upgraded so it can measure several different facets of milk simultaneously. Most important, the sensors can tell if a cow is pregnant, or if its pregnancy has ended, which means farmers can take early steps to streamline labour-intensive processes needed to look after pregnant livestock.

“We use light-scattering technology and powerful AI algorithms to discern and monitor critical dairy metrics such as somatic cell count, mastitis, reproductive status, fat, protein and other milk-quality elements,” said Deshpande in a statement released Tuesday. “The system provides progressive dairy farms with the information they need to support better decisions, higher-quality milk and healthier herds.”

Added Ag Capital Canada Managing General Partner John Lansink: “Having had experience managing reproduction in livestock, I can see major benefits in this technology and its pregnancy algorithms. The services SomaDetect has to offer will be gamechangers.”

Deshpande, who recently moved from Toronto to Halifax, said the SomaDetect sensors are now being used on 7,000 cows in five different American and Canadian farms. Now that the company has funding, the priority for the coming year will be to work on the next generation of sensors, hold pilot programs with them, and then get the sensors into more farms.

The company now has 21 employees, who are working remotely, and it plans to increase its sales team this year, focusing on people with a background in agriculture. SomaDetect will also add people for “select roles” in the technology team, said Deshpande.

She added 2020 “was a challenging year for everyone and I feel incredibly grateful to the group that we have. It would have been such an easy time for people to get derailed . . . but our team stayed really focused on what we could do and the impact we could have to continue to build our business.”