YOU could be forgiven for thinking that new agricultural technology depends on innovative start-up companies, most likely pumped up by a corporate cash injection.
But Victorian milk processor Australian Consolidated Milk’s (ACM) solution demonstrates the hip pocket potential of simple systems with automated milk vat monitoring.
“Quality is very important. We serve a large range of customers and the key ingredient for us is milk temperature,” said ACM field service and compliance manager Kim Morris.
“Currently milk temperature is only captured at pick up. We don't know what happens for the 24 hours beforehand.”
ACM processes around 350 million litres of milk a year, from 150 producers.
ACM’s software provider Advanced Computing, located in Kyabram, Victoria developed a smartphone app to alert if vat temperatures deviate from the 5 degrees Celsius sweet spot.
The app also links in production data crucial for milk price premiums.
The vat monitoring employs temperature sensors that have been used for years in cold storage applications to deliver real-time quality control.
Information gathered by sensors from milk storage is connected to the app through an internet of things (IoT). Similar systems have been developed in New Zealand (see here and here)
That means sensors send information to cloud based internet storage by wireless or mobile signal, which is managed by Microsoft's Azure platform, which provides cloud computing through its software system and global network of data centres.
Ms Morris said the information from the new system benefits both ends of the supply chain.
“We supply a lot of niche market for cheese, cream and so on that don’t have their own milk pools. They don’t want the challenge of managing suppliers and quality control,” she said.
Currently vat temperature is only displayed on site, but with the IoT network gives ACM and the transport company managing tanker fleets new, actionable information.
“Temperature plays a key role in bacteria in milk. The higher temperature, the more bacteria and less quality,” Ms Morris explained.
A tanker truck could be re-routed to a location at risk of exceeding the temperature range, or to prevent spoiled milk from one vat downgrading the full contents of a tanker or and end-customers collection.
The app also links in information ACM, like other processors, gets from laboratory testing of milk supply.
This information is currently sent to farmers on a 10 day cycle, but the app would make it available daily, as each test is completed.
Dairy farmers are paid on a 10 day average, and milk is graded for quality.
The app would not change the payment period, but it does give farmers a rolling record of how they’r trending, which is valuable information with a 40 per cent price reduction between premium and second grade milk.
Increased transparency around milk testing would increase supply chain transparency, which can be a contentious between processors and farmers.
The system is fully operational at one trial site. Ms Morris said farmers were enthusiastic about its release. However, the cost structure of how the sensors and system are installed is yet to be determined.
The temperature monitoring sensors also detect another important part of the milk production cycle, vat washing and sanitisation, which needs to reach a certain temperature and frequency to be effective.
ACM and Advance Computing plan to include this measure in the app in the future.
Meanwhile, ACM is developing an organic milk pool which it hopes to build to 50 producers by 2019 – when they are approved under the three year organic accreditation process.
The company is also building a milk processing plant at Girgarre, near Kyabram. The town lost 140 jobs when Heniz shut down its tomato sauce production in 2012.
ACM’s new facility will employ 35 people when it is operational next year, and expand to a total of 50 at full capacity.