Agri-EPI Centre Project Manager Duncan Forbes is featured in a new Digital Vision for Farming opinion paper produced by Atos, a global leader in digital transformation. Through expert contributions, including a welcome from George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the paper outlines key challenges and the role of digital solutions in meeting the Government’s policy goals in supporting the UK’s food, farming and environment industries. Duncan is featured talking about the benefits to the dairy sector of measurement and data analytics.
Duncan leads Agri-EPI’s new South West Dairy Development Centre, a state-of-the-art, 180-cow dairy in Somerset. Funded by Innovate UK, the £1.36 million facility provides a platform for the industry and partners to develop, trial and share new technologies and techniques supporting sustainable and profitable dairy farming.
The Centre embodies Agri-EPI’s overall aim of accelerating the adoption of productivity-boosting precision farming by providing world-class R&D; connecting academia and industry; and progressing next generation technologies.
An excerpt from Duncan’s feature is reproduced below:
Dairy farm of the future
For dairy farms, using analytics and capturing more data about both the animals and their environment will deliver gains right across the board, from better productivity and animal health to higher work satisfaction and more effective environmental management.
At the heart of any successful dairy enterprise is precision management in two key domains. Firstly, the wellbeing of the cows: healthy cows are essential to healthy dairy businesses, enabling them to continue to invest inwardly and in the environment. Secondly, the welfare of the people looking after the animals: labour is one of the biggest costs of milk production and to get the best return on that investment, we need to maintain an industry in which skilled people want to work. At the same time, to fulfil their wider land stewardship responsibilities, farming operations must be profitable and sustainable.
Measure to manage
Critical to effective herd management is timely decision-making based on accurate and detailed information. It’s estimated that while 25% of the average herd are replaced annually, nearly three quarters of those losses are avoidable. Yet with milk producers and herd managers increasingly stretched, taking consistent measurements can be time-consuming. That’s where connected technologies and automation can make all the difference. It’s not unusual for six hours a day to be spent milking on a traditional dairy farm. Robotic milkers release all that ‘milk harvesting’ time for skilled workers to focus on animal welfare, while the robot milkers continue recording detailed data 24/7 about each cow’s health and milk. These robotics can be integrated with automated feeding systems, which also release significant amounts of time and optimise feed use, together with sensors outside and inside that improve precision grazing by measuring and managing the environment and each cow’s nutritional needs.
These kinds of technologies are in place at the South West Dairy Development Centre, which was set up to create a vision of the future for dairy farming, as well as operating as a commercially viable enterprise and acting as one of three testbeds for the 5G RuralFirst project. This was established to exploit the huge opportunities that 5G connectivity can provide for rural businesses. The Centre has demonstration and research facilities for emerging technologies that will help UK dairying meet some of its most important challenges.
To read the full interview with Duncan, download the full Digital Vision paper.