SENSORS make sense for the successful management of dairy farms, the chief executive and technical director of a global company based in Causeway, Co Kerry, told the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month.
Dr Edmond Harty is head of Dairymaster, a world leader in dairy equipment manufacturing, with customers in over 40 countries and operations in Britain and the United States as well as in Ireland.
His delivered his paper, Advanced Performance Monitoring in Livestock — New Sensors and the Connected Farm, in a session at the Oxford conference with the title of Smart Farming – Guardian of the Environment.
Over the past five decades, Dairymaster, which employs 300 people in Causeway, has researched all aspects of dairy farming and dairy herd management from its own in-house R&D department.
Founded in 1968 by Dr Harty’s father Ned, the multi-award winning comany has developed unique technologically advanced solutions aimed at making dairy farming more profitable by reducing long-term costs and labour inputs with the help of products that operate effectively on farms with cow numbers ranging from 40 to 10,000.
Dr Harty told the Oxford conference that merging technologies have radically changed everything we do. We live in an open society where everyone is connected through the internet, social media, smartphones, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and so on.
“Never before was there so much information available and accessible. We cannot imagine life without technology anymore. Both new and existing technologies are dominant drivers for our future,” he said.
Dr Harty said intelligent sensing mechanisms, big data, cloud servers and two-way data traffic allow us not only to request information anywhere at any time, but also to respond to ever changing situations.
Breaking news is instantaneously pushed to our phones. If an alarm in our house activates, we know about it immediately and the Satnav in our car makes driving easier and safer.
This improves efficiency and makes life easier. Sensors are becoming more popular all over the world. The ‘internet of things’ has allowed us to include sensor technology in almost every aspect of our live.
Dr Harty lists examples like cars that automatically park themselves, climate control in our houses that can be adjusted from our phones and an explosion of technology in sport and fitness. This ‘internet of things’ impacts a large number of industries, including agriculture, where the introduction of sensing technology has already been done in various forms.
With these revolutionary technologies, herd owners can help manage their farms from anywhere on this planet. Profitability, productivity and the need to have a more effective use of labour are the main drivers behind these technologies.
Dr Harty said nearly 10 billion human beings will be living on this planet by 2050. Global population is increasing by 200,000 people a day, which comes down to an increase of 68 million people a year.
If there are not huge changes in agriculture to improve output, the question for many could be: is there food on the table? The World Bank has shown that the world has consumed more food than has been produced in four out of the last five years. Competition for food is growing.
Agriculture is at the moment the number one means for food production and is in many households throughout the world the main source of income. The dairy sector is a main player. Expectation is that the demand for milk and dairy products is going to increase with 100 billion litres in the next five years.
But together with increasing world population comes depletion and degradation of natural resources, which has led to a decrease of total arable land for agricultural purposes.
Since 2012, less than 38% of the land available can be used as agricultural land and with this we are facing considerable challenges in the decades to come considering food production.
There is a high need to get the most out of our land, animals, water and people in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way possible. The use of new technologies has become indispensable in this picture.
Sustainable food production and longevity of stock goes hand in hand with optimal herd management. Healthy cows have greater reproductive performance and produce more milk of better quality than cows in suboptimal condition.
Dr Harty said dairy farm infrastructure includes areas such as milking parlour and facilities, housing and ventilation, walk ways and staff access points, adequate number of cubicles and feed space, feed storage and slurry handling. A well-designed housing system can really boost productivity.
The Dairymaster MooMonitor, is a wireless wearable sensor which measures rumination, resting, feeding and fertility related behaviours of animals 24 hours per day.
In much the same way as news alerts can appear on a smartphone in real-time, these health alerts can be seen on the herd manager’s phone.
Dr Harty said farmers are adopting technology and see the huge benefits — better lifestyle, health, better reproductive performance and higher productivity. Individual care for each animal is the new way of farming; sensors allow this level of detail, making farming more profitable, enjoyable and sustainable, he said.