Report Synopsis

Understanding why existing high-tech systems designed for the livestock industry are largely underutilised: and what are the barriers to their successful adoption

Thomas Allison

Since the first electronic milk meter was developed in 1977, milking machine technology evolved rapidly with the first prototype milking robot operational a mere 14 years later in 1992.

In the intervening 25 years, the apparent progression has been less impressive despite significant technological developments. Many dairy farms invested substantially in technological systems that were designed to improve performance, margins and welfare. Yet many of these systems have failed to fulfil their potential and remain underutilised or redundant.

As someone involved with the installation and support of many of these systems since the 2000s, their significant underutilisation was both frustrating and disappointing. Fortunately, this was not the situation across all farms, with some enjoying spectacular success in similar situations to where others had suffered failure. It became apparent that this was not an issue of progeny or reliability – there are other factors that influence the success (or failure) of systems designed for farm use.

The primary purpose of my study was to determine what factors contribute to a successful outcome of high utilisation and what factors may compromise utilisation. I hoped to identify any beneficial features that system developers ought to implement in future products and if the delivery and support mechanism should be improved. The final considerations concerned the farm environment itself and what changes may be necessary at farm level to drive better system adoption.

To correctly identify necessary improvements to the supply chain and farm operations, I researched several farms that were successfully utilising technology in the USA, Australia, Israel and the UK. My research considered poultry, dairy, swine, arable and mushroom enterprises as well as interviews with politicians, business leaders, academic researchers and farm specialists such as veterinarians. I also arranged visits with technology developers in the UK and Israel to understand their design philosophies and what farm level changes may be necessary from their perspective. I also met with extension officers in both the USA and Indonesia to understand the challenges they face in explaining innovation and techniques to farmers large and small. Finally, I spoke with specialists to understand what influence they have upon the investment decisions of their clients.

The fundamental issue concerns our conceptualisation of a “farmer.” Quite simply it is incorrect; thus it is impossible to develop a technical system that will work on all livestock farms. The success of a farm can no longer be attributed to a single intelligence; rather there are many minds at work seeking answers to very different questions. Furthermore, many system operators, unaware of the benefits of proper system operation, fall victim to “hyperbolic discounting” - opting to complete other farm chores, rather than concentrate on system operation.

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