Black Box Co aims to predict outcomes

Taking numbers and using those numbers to make predictions is the way of the future for one regional business. Black Box Co is a cloud-based software program that links data captured right along the beef supply chain to create informed insights for the beef industry.

It was co-founded by Emma Black and Shannon Speight; who connected through the Zanda McDonald award; considered Australasia’s agricultural badge of honour. Emma Black won the inaugural award in 2015 and Shannon Speight was a joint winner in 2019. The women can now add another award to their mantlepiece.

As winners of nbn’s Innovate Agriculture award, the Black Box Co co-founders say they’ll use the $10,000 grant to increase cloud storage and cloud computational services as they work to commercialise the machine learning component of their software.

Black Box Co co-founders Emma Black (left) and Shannon Speight (right).

This involves using records from more than 800,000 animals; with 12 million data points; to inform prediction algorithms to forecast production outcomes across the beef industry supply chain, supporting a more sustainable, proactive and profitable beef industry.

“We are excited to work with nbn on helping expand the digital capabilities for regional and rural Australia,” said Chief Executive Shannon Speight.

Black Box Co was a natural progression for both Shannon and Emma based on their early careers.

“Emma and I came up with the idea just over a year ago and it sits in the hands of industry who have helped shape it’s features with the aim to make them more money and more sustainable,” explains Shannon.

“It will work across not only the entire beef industry across Australia but basically any operation that collects and receives data can benefit.”

The cloud-based system enables farmers to turn this data into practical and useful insights allowing them to be more efficient, more sustainable, more productive and more profitable.

“We have seen an incredible uptake within an industry that is typically resistant to change, but we believe that by working with farmers early; they get a real understanding of the capabilities of digital adoption,” says Emma.

“Our trial customers were all based in rural Australia and have been beneficiaries of the nbn™ network and the increased connectivity it provides. It is with the nbn™ network that digitisation of this industry has been possible. With these greater insights businesses are becoming more efficient, more productive and more profitable, leading to reinvestment back into the beef industry and the many rural communities that are supported by it.”

Shannon explains her work all ties back to her origins with genomics but as opposed to taking DNA, Black Box Co is using machine learning and existing data to predict how animals will perform.

“When I started working for the University of Queensland on a large-scale genomics project I recognised in order to make advancements such as genomics predictions you needed a really incredible data base. On the flip side, I observed a lot of farmers and producers were already collecting data and just simply storing it on a USB or a hard drive and never doing any analytics on it or putting it to any use.

“Emma was recognising the same thing from different aspects in the supply chain; everywhere from nutrition and meat science both in abattoirs and on farm.

“We created Black Box Co because nobody was doing anything with the information available. Now our next step is to really build the platform to be as powerful as it can for the producers.

Queensland senator Susan McDonald presents Black Box Co’s Shannon Speight with the agriculture category Innovate with nbn award.

“Our database is so big that we can utilise this information to be more powerful than if it was utilised in its silo form. We have set up computing programs and algorithms to process this information and start to predict how animals are going to perform.

“It will tell producers how long they should feed an animal for; what price they could expect to receive; and in terms of fertility aspects it could tell them potentially if a cow is going to have a calf prior to being joined with the bull.

“Hopefully it will allow them to make decisions on what animals to keep, what animals to cull and really regulate their cash flow as well.”


AustralianFarmers is an online community powered by the National Farmers' Federation.

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Register for updates

Subscribe to access free weekly recipes, news and lifestyle content – fresh from Australia’s farmers.