Report Synopsis

Dairy Data. Utilising technology for decision making in pasture-based dairy farming

Duncan Macdonald

It is easy to get caught up in the hype of digital agriculture. The possibilities that new technologies provide are set to revolutionise farming in ways that probably can’t even be imagined at this point. Attending AgTech conferences with stall after stall of new start-up ventures offering shiny new sensors, data management and other digital farm services further re-enforces this excitement. The digital agriculture revolution provides the hope of smarter farming, increased yields with less inputs and a more sustainable farming future. The promises are vast, the practical realities are currently less so but still very real, provided the focus can be maintained on practical solutions which achieve valuable outcomes.

New technology and low-cost sensors now make it possible to monitor almost every aspect of grazing-based systems. From connected, virtually herded cow through to live readings on pasture biomass from automated robots. With almost anything now seemingly possible, it is more important to make the distinction between what data can be collected, and what data is actually needed.

Block calving, grazing-based dairy systems are inherently robust and simple in their success, relying on efficient systems-based management to deliver efficient, predictable results. If digital agriculture is to successfully engage farmers to move past this to more elite data driven decision making, it must do so without overly complicating the day-to-day operation or compromising these existing strengths.

The stark contrast between what is now technically possible, and the slow progression of technology uptake by much of the industry highlights a lack of proven, clear financial benefit or demonstrated integral link between technology and the success of farming systems. While some aspects of technology and data interrogation are already delivering financial gains for those with an interest and skill set to successfully utilise them, it is perhaps in other areas such as helping to meet ever increasing compliance demands, improved animal welfare outcomes and maintaining a social licence to farm that technology may have the biggest impact in the future.

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