Innovators and first followers are a special breed we should all celebrate

Being a dairy farmer can be extraordinarily rewarding but there is no denying its 24/7 and you just can’t turn the cows off and shut up shop and go on holiday whenever you want to.

So just imagine if a technology came along that milked the cows for you.

Well it has – bring on the robots courtesy of the highly innovative team at Future Dairy at Sydney University

Cows that milk themselves voluntarily with the help of robots is only one example of the many technologies that are available to our dairy farmers. At the moment there are 34 robotic milking farms in Australia (with at least another 8 being installed).

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Robotic Rotary Dairy

This represents a total of 135 robots milking around 9,100 cows, producing almost 50 million litres of milk per year. A small proportion of the Australian dairy industry (9.2 billion litres), but definitely growing in interest and adoption.

The average Automatic Milking System (AMS) farm has 268 cows milked through 4 robots (range of 110 and 2 robots to 550 and 8 robots).

These AMS installations cover every commercially available type in Australia (two brands offering single box robots, two brands offering multi box robots and one brand offering the robotic rotary).

The AMS operate across a range of farming system types from grazing with some supplementary grain feeding (82% of farms) to farms where all the cows are housed (12% of farms).

Ciows supplementary feeding

Cows live the luxury life with access to supplementary feed under shelter

Every dairy state in Australia has farmers that are currently operating with AMS and farmer discussion groups where they can share their trials and tribulations and success stories have been established in Victoria and Tasmania as well as the NSW Dairy Innovation Group which discusses all things technology and innovation.

There is no denying the gutsy early adopter farmers should be applauded as new technology invariably comes at a large capital cost with a high new technology frustration cost and a small group of vocal detractors sitting in the wings waiting with glee for you to go broke.

Different farmers adopt technologies for different reasons. So it’s imperative that farmers achieve the expectations behind the technology adoption and there is no denying expectations need to be the right ones too!! Check out the Future Dairy’s Case Studies.

Imagine how excited our industry is to hear the Future Dairy team is in the running for Australia’s most prestigious science accolade The Eureka Prize

Innovators and first followers are a special breed we should all celebrate – the bright minds who wake up every day with big ideas to change the way we live, work and play and the brave people who the test the waters and help the innovators get it right for the rest of us.

Change is hard

I must admit when I played a big role in the management decisions at Clover Hill there were so many times we were tempted to get on board with some of these new technology breakthroughs that were thwarted by lack of funds, lack of room, lack of IT knowledge ad infinitum but never a lack of desire to get the best outcomes for our cows, our team,our business and the land we have stewardship of

Innovators and Early Adopters, both work hand-in-hand to bring new technology into use. Innovators are the great thinkers in the realm of technology; they create the latest and greatest, cutting edge technology, while Early Adopters can see what the Innovators have created, and find the practical application of the new technology and begin using the Innovators’ creations and applying their ideas.

I sit in the stands and watch with fascination and loudly cheer on all the early technology adopter farmers in our dairy industry.

You are a gutsy bunch of people and you deserve every success and you couldn’t have a better support network than the team at Future Dairy

Also hearty congratulations to Professor Snow Barlow another legend in agriculture for his selection as a Eureka Prize finalist

Thanks to Dr Nico Lyons for his assistance with the data in this article

Interesting article How Robotics is Transforming 21st Century Farming 

Robots bring the cows home

Everybody who knows me knows that the last thing I ever wanted to do was farm but when the people I love most in the world decided that was what they both wanted to do I wanted to make sure that farming would deliver the best possible life for them. 

Now lets not kid ourselves only the very brave farm in a world where supermarkets control the supply chain and the people who run the supermarkets in the main have absolutely no idea of the challenges and constraints farmers face today to farm in a socially acceptable way in the 21st century.

There is something else about farming that excites me beyond my wildest dreams and that is the innovation and technology and the resilience of Australian farmers and great minds who help them feed and clothe not only in Australian consumers but many other people around the world. So I am so excited to be able to share this story with you.

Now as my regular readers know the Australian dairy industry so frustrates me. Driven by the mindset at Dairy Australia our farmers are forced to live in this cocooned world that means they rarely get to interact with all the other exciting people who not only farm in other industries but also the amazing people who support people in other industries.

One shining light is the Dairy Research Foundation (DRF) team and the Future Dairy Project. These people are amazing beyond belief and I am so honoured to sit on the board of the DRF and have insights into what is happening with the Future Dairy Project            

Let me show you what I mean

With increasing numbers of Australian dairy cows now being milked by robots, researchers are looking at a range of exciting ways to use robots on farm, and one that has already shown promise is the use of robots to herd cattle from the paddock to the dairy.

Delegates at the Dairy Research Foundation’s symposium, to be held at Kiama on 4 & 5th of July will get a sneak peak of Rover, a prototype robot, in action.

Robot

Cows at the University of Sydney’s Corstophine farm were unfazed by the presence of a robot which herded the cows out of the paddock calmly and efficiently

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Dairy Science Group and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, have used an unmanned ground vehicle (robot) to herd dairy cows out of the paddock.

Dairy researcher Associate Professor Kendra Kerrisk said the team was amazed at how easily the cows accepted the presence of the robot.

“They weren’t at all fazed by it and the herding process was very calm and effective,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“As well as saving labour, robotic herding would improve animal wellbeing by allowing cows to move to and from the dairy at their own pace.”

The robot was developed by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics for tree and fruit monitoring on tree-crop farms. It was used in the initial trial with very little modification for the dairy paddock.

We are keen to explore further opportunities with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. They have a range of robotic technologies which could have exciting applications on dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“While the robot showed exciting potential for use on a dairy farm, it would need to be adapted to operate autonomously on the terrain of dairy farms and its programing would need be customised for dairy applications.”

In addition to robotic herding, some of the possible applications include collecting pasture and animal data in the paddock; monitoring calving and alerting the manger if attention is needed and identifying and locating individual cows in the paddock.

“The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming, in terms of reducing repetitive work, increasing the accuracy of data that farmers collect and making data available that we currently can’t capture.

“Robotic technologies will have a role in increasing the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of Australia’s dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

Does agriculture get anymore exciting than this and let me assure this is not reducing jobs in the dairy industry it just means we can now attract the best and the brightest minds. 

If you want to come and see Rover in action to register for the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium visit www.drfsymposium.com.au 

 

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