blog 18

Efficiency through Precision Farming: is this the future of dairy farming?

Profitability, self-sufficiency, food safety and sustainability will be crucial factors in the future of the Dairy Industry. In this episode we investigate how the practice of “Precision Farming” can contribute to the future of the Dairy Industry through its potential, its limits and needs.

A look to the future of dairy farming

As an output from the latest Supporters event, the IFCN provided some keynotes on the future of the dairy chain. Looking at the immediate future, it ruled that the Covid-19 Pandemic will speed up innovation within the industry, forcing the need for new technologies and real-time connectivity. If we dare look a bit further into the future, IT Farm Management and Robotization will probably mark the difference in pace between profitable farms and less-profitable ones, with a focus on producing more with less. In 2050 it is estimated that the global population will reach up to 9.8 billion, increasing demand whilst soil and the planet's resources and capacity remain the same. Improving efficiency on farm will be the key difference in the future. The technologies and practises required to grant such a level of efficiency are known as “Precision Farming” and have already started to appear on farms.

What do we mean when talking about “Farm digitisation” and “Precision Farming”?

Precision dairy farming is not about how precise the information is, but how to use the information to make a more precise decision.” - Santiago Utsumi, Assistant Professor of the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and the Department of Animal Science of Michigan State University (MSU)

We could say that when mentioning “Precision Farming” we refer to every tool that allows farmers to: monitor their herd, their farm, its processes, collect farm data, and analyse it, allowing them to plan more effectively and farm more efficiently.

Some examples of methods of Precision Farming:

  • Robotics milking
  • All kind of sensors; from those that detect milk quality to those checking the animals' activity & nutrition.
  • Drones that monitor herds, crops or soil.
  • Cameras that can detect possible infections or can recognize cows, sheep or goats upon entering the milking parlour.
  • Devices that monitor and detect the farms carbon emissions

Expectations and real benefits:

The expectations towards the digitisation of farming are high, however as is it's potential. Digitisation is widely recognized and expected to bring many benefits to farmers; given that they can collect valuable farm data allowing them to transform their farms by taking suggestions from the data to inform and improve their actions and decisions.

Some of the well-established and potential benefits from farm Digitisation could be the following:

  • Improvement in yield and overall performances
  • Processes optimization
  • Labour reduction
  • Increased profitability
  • Improved working conditions
  • Reduced environmental impacts
  • Time and money-saving

Possible obstacles to Digitisation / Precision Farming:

There are some obstacles preventing farmers from investing in this technology. Some Farmers will be easily persuaded as soon as they experience the benefits, in other cases more incentives and motivations may be required.

Some reasons that may prevent you, as a farmer, to invest in Precision Farming might be:

  • The initial investment
  • It appears overbearing and complex
  • It requires some testing
  • It demands new skills both on the side of milkers and from the farm managers side
  • It needs a broadband internet connection
  • At the moment the tools are not easily integrable with existing plants
  • They require too much external know-how

Some of these can be real obstacles, others can be easily overcome: the systems available on the market right now are becoming more and more simple and easy-to-use, and frequently they do not need specific training. Small/medium size farms maybe those who have to face the greatest difficulties in embracing these change, so it important that for Precision Farming to be 100% effective. A strong cooperation among farmers, institutions, scientists and the industry is key. The role of farmers is crucial in this process, as are independent advisers, in helping farmers taking this potentially daunting next step. 

Further incentives to take the step toward digitisation? For example in the EU

We have already mentioned how the EU is working to push this revolution but it is also important to note that they are also promoting incentives on investments in technology, such as Precision Farming through Industry 4.0. They firmly believe that Technology like this is the future of farming and the only possible way to get a sustainable, efficient and profitable life for farmers. Check out more about this here: EU industry 4.0

If you still have doubts, then please follow the next blog episodes for a couple of case-studies that will help you to understand more about Precision Farming. You can then decide if Precision Farming Technology will be included in the future for your farm.

Assistant Professor of the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and the Department of Animal Science of Michigan State University (MSU)


Date: 09 October 2020

  • Summary:
    Want to learn more about the future of farming, and how you can invest into it? Read our latest blog episode!