The digital future of the dairy industry

Smart, sustainable, and digital farming: Could these technologies hold the key to addressing challenges within the dairy industry? For Lars Bergmann, Head of Digital Services, the answer is yes! Below, he shares insights from his contribution to the AgTech Innovation Summit panel in San Francisco, USA. 

Lars Bergmann (middle) at the AgTech Innovation Summit in San Francisco, USA.  

Dairy farming today comes with its share of challenges, chief among them being the shortage of workers. This issue isn’t confined to regions traditionally low on labour, it’s also impacting areas that were once abundant in manpower. However, the challenges extend beyond a labour shortage, there’s also a pressing need to embrace sustainable farming practices while ensuring farm efficiency and profitability.  How can dairy farmers address these challenges? Three approaches stand out: smart, sustainable, and digital farming.

Smart, sustainable, and digital farming 

These three concepts – smart, sustainable, and digital farming – are interconnected but focus on different aspects and objectives within the context of dairy farming. Smart farming focuses on using technology to improve farming practices (like keeping crops and animals healthy), sustainable farming is about being environmentally responsible, while digital farming merges both areas while also promoting connectivity and collaboration within the agricultural sector. These approaches are complementary and work together to improve the overall efficiency and sustainability of dairy farms. Let’s break these concepts down further! 

1) Smart farming

Smart farming integrates various advanced technologies designed to optimise different aspects of dairy production, including automatic and semi-automatic milking systems, innovative milk extraction methods, precision animal management tools, and on-farm milk analysis capabilities. 

Smart farming 

  • Integrates advanced technologies for optimising dairy production.  
  • Involves automation and semi-automation of tasks like milking and animal management.  
  • Emphasises efficiency and productivity using robotic milking systems and automated pregnancy checks.  
  • Relies on data collection and analysis for informed decision-making.  

So, how is DeLaval leveraging smart farming technologies? Consider the DeLaval VMS™ robotic milking system as an example. It customises every milking session to suit the needs of individual cows, prioritising their comfort and optimising milk production by adjusting to factors like teat location and size. 

Technologies like the DeLaval RePro™ system and the DeLaval Herd Navigator improve efficiency by automating pregnancy checks and heat detection during milking. Farmers receive alerts about cows needing insemination or treatment, helping them make more informed herd management decisions. Additionally, easily understandable visual reports present data, enabling farmers to proactively manage their herds and improve reproductive management through data-driven decision-making. This ultimately leads to boosted farm profitability by improving reproduction results, automating pregnancy checks, and reducing health costs.

Discover the benefits of the DeLaval VMS™ robotic milking in this video.

2) Sustainable farming  

The focus here is on leveraging technology to conserve resources like water and energy, while also enhancing the efficiency of cows in milk production and resource utilisation. And this, naturally, ties in with making sure farmers have healthy cows. Healthy cows are essential, not just for increasing milk production and profitability, but also for reducing a farm’s carbon footprint. 

In farming, using data to measure things is really important for making improvements. For instance, our Milk Sustainability Center helps farmers track their farm’s emissions and find ways to reduce them. In particular, it helps them keep an eye on nutrient use efficiency (NUE), which is basically how well cows turn their food into milk. When cows are good at using their food, they make more milk without needing lots of extra food. This is good for the farm and the environment because it means less waste and fewer costs. So, by improving NUE, farmers can make their farms more sustainable and save money in the long run. 

Sustainable farming 

  • Focuses on reducing environmental impact while ensuring profitability.  
  • Leverages technology to conserve resources like water and energy.  
  • Promotes animal welfare and health through sustainable practices.  

3) Digital farming  

As mentioned earlier, digital farming integrates smart and sustainable farming principles while fostering connectivity and collaboration within the agricultural sector. It harnesses digital tools, such as sensors on cows, to enhance farming practices. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) play crucial roles in dairy farming by streamlining tasks and improving efficiency. For instance, automatic feeding systems use AI to precisely measure and deliver feed to cows based on their nutritional needs, optimizing their health and milk production. Similarly, automated systems for cleaning and sanitizing barns help maintain hygienic conditions, reducing the risk of disease transmission and improving cow welfare. Moreover, AI-powered monitoring systems analyse data from various sources, such as milk yield and cow behavior, to detect health issues early and provide timely interventions. By leveraging automation and AI technologies, digital farming empowers dairy farmers to streamline operations, increase productivity, and ensure the long-term sustainability of their farms. 

Digital farming  

  • Enhances efficiency, sustainability, and productivity in agriculture, including dairy farming.  
  • Provides real-time insights for informed decision-making.  
  • Minimises waste and environmental impact through precision agriculture techniques.  
  • Streamlines farm operations using automation and AI.  
  • Enables collaboration and innovation across the agricultural ecosystem.  
Discover why DeLaval Flow-Responsive milking a win-win for animals and staff.

It’s more than data! 

Efficient digital farming goes beyond merely gathering data. As one farmer aptly stated, “Don’t give me more data – I need information.” That’s why it’s crucial to simplify data and provide actionable insights. One of the key advantages of digital farming is its ability to facilitate information sharing among farmers. For example, systems like DeLaval Plus essentially connect the whole farm to the cloud, enabling them to share data and ideas within the dairy industry. Through these interconnected systems, farmers can easily exchange data on milk production, cow health, and environmental conditions, enabling them to benchmark their performance against others and pinpoint areas for improvement. This collaborative approach benefits individual farmers and contributes to the overall advancement of the industry, empowering farmers to learn from each other’s experiences, adopt best practices, and collectively address challenges. It’s important to note that, at our company, we strongly believe in farmers’ ownership of their data. We always seek permission before sharing any data, and our Dairy Data Warehouse has extensive experience in securely managing data to ensure privacy and security. 

The future of farming is here 

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that digital technology is poised to revolutionise farming practices – this transformation is already occurring for farmers who have rapidly embraced these innovations. After all, these technologies extend into all areas of dairy farming – automating and optimising various processes, including milking, feeding, cleaning, and monitoring. They contribute to resource optimisation, saving time and money, enhancing animal welfare, aiding farmers in making more informed decisions, and fostering increased collaboration and innovation.  

  1. Resource optimisation  

The use of digital tools is really important for farmers who want to run their farms in a sustainable and profitable way. It helps them manage their resources better, especially water, energy, and land, by giving them instant information and analysis. For example, technologies such as robotic milking assist farmers in producing more milk with fewer cows, resulting in reduced environmental impact, including lower carbon dioxide emissions and decreased usage of water and feed. By using resources wisely, farmers can make their farms more profitable by being more efficient and reducing waste. And there’s a lot more that digital tools can do to make farms more sustainable. In the end, using digital tools is a win-win for dairy farmers, helping them take care of the environment and make more money at the same time. 

2. Saving time and money  

The burning question we often get is: “Can robotics and digital technology reduce farm expenses?” Automation tackles tasks that would otherwise require human labour, such as milking, feeding, or harvesting, allowing farmers to redirect their time and resources. While initial investment may surpass traditional methods, it becomes a viable alternative in the face of labour shortages, offering not only cost savings but also improvements in animal welfare.  

3. Animal welfare   

Digital tools help farmers monitor and improve the physical and mental well-being of their animals. Swinging cow brushes, for example, provide individualised care similar to a massage, promoting comfort and contentment. Sensors can track various aspects of animal behaviour, akin to a Fitbit for cows, including health indicators, rumination, walking, lying, and eating. This technology, reminiscent of systems used to track athletes in sports like the NFL, helps farmers detect and prevent diseases, injuries, and infections, reducing veterinary expenses, medication costs, and mortality rates, while enhancing animal performance and longevity.  

4. Making informed decisions  

Digital technologies such as sensors, automation, and data analytics are transforming dairy farming, providing farmers with crucial insights for informed decision-making, while also optimising inputs and outputs. Real-time data analysis enables early issue identification, allowing for prompt intervention and ultimately empowering farmers to make proactive decisions for enhanced productivity and livestock well-being. For instance, DeLaval Disease Risk uses data from farm management systems, milking systems, and on-farm sensors to identify disease risks and specific diseases. Improved welfare practices lead to healthier cows with longer lifespans, more productive lactation cycles, and higher yields, reducing reliance on heifers and cows and lowering treatment costs. The VMS V310 milking robot features a built-in progesterone sensor for heat detection and monitoring reproductive disorders and pregnancy status without hormone programmes. By offering real-time reproductive health data, the VMS V310 enables farmers to make informed decisions about breeding practices, optimise herd fertility, and maximise productivity. 

5. Collaboration and innovation 

As previously mentioned, digitalisation fosters collaboration and innovation within the farming community. Farmers can connect with advisors, service providers, and consumers through digital platforms, facilitating knowledge sharing, access to advice, and participation in research projects. By leveraging digital technologies to enhance management practices, farmers can identify patterns, mitigate risks, and plan effectively for the future, thereby fostering innovation in agricultural methods and approaches. 

Hear from our customers in Belgium about how the DeLaval VMS™ 310 improves fertility.

What does the dairy farm of the future look like?  

The dairy farm of the future is a place where technology, sustainability, and animal welfare are integrated to produce high-quality milk and dairy products. I believe farms of the future will likely be more standardised, integrated, and data driven.  

Some of the key features of the dairy farm of the future include: 

  • Smart sensors and cameras that monitor the health, behaviour, and productivity of each cow, and alert the farmer of any issues or needs.  
  • Automatic or semi-automatic milking systems that reduce the need for labour and allow the cows to choose when and how often they want to be milked, reducing stress and increasing efficiency.  
  • Precision feeding and nutrition systems that optimise the diet and feed intake of each cow, reducing waste and emissions.  
  • Robotic systems that handle tasks such as cleaning, feeding, and manure management, freeing up time and resources for the farmer.  
  • Regenerative agriculture practices that enhance soil health, biodiversity, and water quality.  

In essence, the dairy farm of the future integrates technology, precision, and environmental stewardship to produce high-quality dairy products that prioritise animal welfare and efficiency. Through the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices and the implementation of smart sensors, automatic milking systems, precision feeding, and robotic assistance, these farms aim to maximise productivity while minimising environmental impact, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient agricultural sector. And the endless possibilities are exciting!