This is an entry in the 2019 Australian Dairy Conference's Young Dairy Scientist Award.
An industry survey revealed that farmers milking larger herds have adopted more precision technologies, and that is expected that by 2025 the adoption of technologies for data capturing and monitoring system parameters will increase.
As dairy operations continue to increase in size, monitoring and managing individual cows has become more challenging and complex and requires enhanced management ability. The use of automation and sensor systems, commonly termed ‘precision technology’, is increasingly providing farmers with the means to reduce labour requirements and to improve management of large herds.
Certain technologies like automatic cup removers or milk plant wash systems offer the possibility of either reducing pressure on labour or improving labour efficiency. Others, rely on data capture and are currently used to monitor parameters at an individual cow level to increase production efficiency and performance of dairy farms. This group includes automatic estrus detection systems, inline milk meters, electronic cow identification systems and herd management software.
Given this global context of increasing farming scale, the aim of the study was to explore the relationship between herd size and current and future adoption of precision technologies in Australia, and evaluate the differences between farmers and service providers in relation the future adoption. To address this, an online survey was conducted in 2015 by NSW Department of Primary Industries. A total of 301 responses across all eight dairy regions, including 199 farmers and 102 service providers, were obtained.
Current adoption of precision technologies Results indicated that despite herd size, the four most adopted precision technologies were automatic cup removers, herd management software, automatic in-parlour feeding and automatic milk plant wash systems (see Figure 1).
Farmers with more than 500 cows adopted between two and four times more specific precision technologies, such as herd management software, automatic milk plant wash systems, electronic cow identification systems or automatic sorting gates, when compared with farmers with less than 500 cows.
The greater current adoption of these technologies on larger dairy farms, might reflect farmers’ attempts to address labour issues (availability, cost, skill level and efficiency) as well as ensuring routines and protocols to monitor and manage larger scales of operation.
For example, automating the milk plant wash provides consistency (chemical dosing, water volume/temperature and washing times), increases labour efficiency and minimises health and safety issues associated with handling strong chemicals and hot water.
Future adoption of precision technologies The four precision technologies that farmers and service providers agreed that would have the highest increase in adoption by 2025 were automatic estrus detection systems, automatic sorting gates, automated mastitis detection tools and automatic milking systems (AMS) (see Figure 2).
For the majority of the technologies, no differences were detected between herd size or farmers and service providers. Only a greater proportion of service providers than farmers considered that AMS and walk-over-weighing (WOW) would have an increased adoption by 2025.
The differences in AMS perception might be partially explained by fewer farmers having visited an AMS farm in comparison to service providers, or the fact that they actually have to invest in the technology that has higher commissioning costs than conventional systems.
The differences in WOW systems could be due to the lack of clear understanding on how to use such information or the difficulty to measure benefits at a farm level. It is possible that service providers have either more expertise or time to extract value from this type of data.
Perceptions on future precision technology adoption could represent an opportunity. More research is needed to adapt technologies to a range of production systems (grazing versus indoor for example) as well as quantifying the monetary and non-monetary benefits, which are not always clear for farmers.
It is also important to understand that there are some barriers, such as lack of infrastructure (connectivity) or skills (computer knowledge or management and integration of data) that might slow down the adoption of some precision technologies.
Conclusions Results from the survey revealed farmers managing larger herd sizes have so far adopted more precision technologies than those with smaller herds. Almost no differences were detected in respondents’ perception of future precision technology adoption in relation to either herd size or between farmers and service providers.
The adoption of some of the precision technologies is still low, particularly for farms with fewer than 500 cows.
Most of the precision technologies currently installed on-farm is of the type that addresses labour issues, probably associated with larger herd sizes. However, respondents indicated that by 2025 there would be increased adoption of data-capturing technology for monitoring farm system parameters.
This research was funded by NSW Department of Primary Industries and was part of an internship I did on 2017. Currently, I am studying a Masters at The University of Sydney supported by NSW DPI and the Dairy Research Foundation.
The six finalists were: Caelie Richardson, Latrobe University (Vic).
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