July 19 2021

How is technology advancing for the Dairy Industry?

Photo by Eric Herni on Unsplash

Global production of milk has been estimated to have increased by 61% in the past 25 years. (5)
As with most Industries, growing supply means growing profits, but also an increase in losses. It has been evidenced that “global dairy industry losses are estimated to reach a staggering €30bn per annum. This is due to poor milk quality, significant milk losses and culling of chronically infected animals”. (3)
Given the extent of this wastage, it goes without saying that utilising emerging technologies to tackle losses is at the forefront of the Industry’s aims when looking towards the future.
Ever-adapting technologies have played an essential role in addressing issues surrounding inefficiencies, and because of these developments, the Dairy Industry has experienced a complete transformation over the past few decades.

Technological Revolution from field to shelf

This revolution continues to gain momentum at an increasing rate, with improvements throughout the processes of production, herd maintenance, shipping and distribution, as well as preservation and improvements made to the milk itself.
The technological revolution seen over the past few decades has re-evaluated and restructured pretty much every Industry, how each operates and the tools each business uses to control their business, maximise production output, and grow effectively.
“Energy efficiency will continue to have a major influence on manufacture and distribution”, (1) and so we will outline the key developments over recent years for the Dairy Industry; from apps that monitor herd health and disease prevention technologies to techniques used to enhance preservation and improve shelf-life.

Emerging Technologies

Focusing on various stages of the process from herd health to production control and preservatives, we will explore 4 innovations that have revolutionised how Dairies are operating.

LIC satellite technology to monitor pasture and optimise space usage

Image source & credits: https://www.fwi.co.uk/livestock/grassland-management/how-new-dairy-tech-is-being-used-globally-by-farmers

Herd Health

Weather, climate, temperature and feed all have direct, and quite impactful effects on production and milk yields — These natural variables are not possible to control with field-grazing cows, but this doesn’t mean that Dairies can’t optimise and take advantage of their geographical situation.
LIC or Livestock Improvement Corporation Ltd is an agri-tech and herd improvement co-operative, and have been working throughout New Zealand for over 100 years helping farmers to make informed decisions to maximise output.
The innovative strategies include consultancy and advice to help farmers make the most of their farms.
They do this using data. For example, they use satellites to measure pasture coverage for each farm, which helps farmers to optimise space usage. They also grant farmers access to personalised information for each cow to monitor their productivity and profitability. All of this information is accessible on the farmers’ computers or mobile phones, so they can access it at any given time. (6)
This access to data gives farmers superior control over their farm and herd, helping them to make the right decisions at the right time using reliable and accurate information.
Another preventative method for monitoring herd health is the ‘Cow Collar’. As the name suggests, this collar fits around the cow and monitors their daily activity; steps taken, grazing times. Farmers can monitor cows using their laptop or smartphone, and share any issues or concerns with their vets immediately. (2) This aspect of the technology aims to predict and prevent illness which would undoubtedly have a greater impact if it wasn’t detected as quickly as possible.
However, this technology has another purpose; farmers predict pregnancies more accurately “and boost the chances of healthy pregnancies. And when you maximise the chances of healthy pregnancies, you maximise the chances of enhanced milk production.” (2)

Optimising Production

Robotic automation was one of the first early signs of Dairy tech developments. This mirrored factory automation that began decades earlier and was later adapted for the Dairy Industry.
Despite this early onset, the use of robotics has continued to develop to meet modern expectations of production and efficiency. Beginning as robotic hands which could pump cows at far quicker rates than its manual predecessors, these inventions have now been adapted, and the “The cow’s health and milk production information are recorded and, upon completion of milking, the cow returns to the herd.” (4)
Sunny Glade Farm in Canada is taking a more holistic approach with robotics. The family-run Dairy farm is entering its fourth generation of farming, and back in July of 2014, they switched to a completely automated farm.
They have around 250 cows that are looked after and monitored using automation that send them to and from the barn, feeding and taking note of each cow’s health all at once. They also have a mobile machine called a ‘Lely Vector’ which scans the barn, supplies the cows with food when stocks run low, along with various other mobile robots that clean, milk and monitor cows. (7)

Lely Vector - Dairy Farming Technological Innovation

Image source: www.lely.com/

This farm is not uncommon, and the automation behind the farm’s refurbishment is thanks to Lely; a Dutch agri-tech business that aims to revolutionise the farming industry using automated processing.
The presence of tech companies like Lely is partly due to a response to labour shortages for Dairy farms. People simply aren’t looking for such labour-intensive work nowadays, and automations like Lely’s Vector both reduce the cost of production and curve issues of staff shortages, whilst improving efficiency all at once.

Developments in Transportation

Moving from the farms to the roads, farmer-owned company Arla produces dairy products and distributes them globally. They are the largest supplier of dairy products in Scandinavia. In 2019, pursuing their aim for a more sustainable industry, they developed ‘supercooling’ technology as a tool to transport dairy produce long distances without the need for artificial preservatives or freezing.
Their natural transportation solution aims to preserve the quality of dairy products and came about in response to issues surrounding wastage, and evolving consumer demand for fresher tasting, higher quality products.
“The new technology allows Arla to transport its products internationally and create global growth and export opportunities.” (8)

Quality enhancement

Milking robotics has also made a substantial impact on the UK’s dairy farmers too, with around 30% of all modern milking systems being purchased by our farmers. (9)
Using the example of Osbaldeston Hall Farm in Blackburn, the introduction of their Merlin2 System saw milk production go up 8–12%, alongside reducing labour costs with a 4-day working week reducing down to under 2 hours. (10)
Although these systems have been put in place to boost production, there have been some unexpected benefits regarding the quality of milk being produced.
The system milks cows on their own schedule — When cows want to be milked, they come through the process meaning the cows enjoy a higher quality of life and less stress.
Alongside higher production capacity, less stress for the cows and reduced manual labour, Chris Dargh discovered that the milk was actually better quality than it was using their old system.

Conclusion

Labour shortages, the intensity of labour and the rising demand for quality products has meant Dairy processes from the farm to the table have had to be completely restructured in recent years. Technological advancements that we have covered, such as the Merlin Milking System, supercooling technology and Lely’s sustainability-driven inventions are just scratching the surface of what’s to come for the future of the Dairy Industry.
References

Wilbey, R., 2017. Dairy technology: A UK perspective on its past, present and future. International Journal of Dairy Technology, [online] 70(4), pp.459–468. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1471-0307.12460. Megalac.com. 2018. How new technology is transforming dairy farming. [online] Available at: https://www.megalac.com/about/news/151-how-new-technology-is-transforming-dairy-farming [Accessed 11 July 2021]. Burrell, H., 2020. Five key technology innovations in the dairy industry for 2020. [online] Foodbev.com. Available at: https://www.foodbev.com/news/five-key-technology-innovations-in-the-dairy-industry-for-2020/? [Accessed 12 July 2021]. bcdairy.ca. n.d. Technology in the dairy industry. [online] Available at: https://bcdairy.ca/milk/articles/technology-in-the-dairy-industry [Accessed 13 July 2021]. Arnold, A., 2019. How Smart Tech And The Digital Age Is Benefiting The Dairy Industry. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewarnold/2019/01/02/how-smart-tech-and-the-digital-age-is-benefiting-the-dairy-industry/? [Accessed 13 July 2021]. https://www.lic.co.nz/ Bloomberg Quicktake, 2015. How Robots Are Saving the Dairy Farm. [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XI4siKp-nU [Accessed 13 July 2021]. Lalou, K., n.d. “Supercooling” for fresh dairy: Arla launches natural, no preservative dairy transport solution. [online] Food Ingredients First. Available at: https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/supercooling-for-fresh-dairy-arla-launches-natural-no-preservative-dairy-transport-solution.html [Accessed 13 July 2021]. Heyden, T., 2015. The cows that queue up to milk themselves. [online] BBC.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32610257 [Accessed 13 July 2021].

Photo Credits

(1) Photo by Anne Preble on Unsplash (2) Photo by Elizabeth McDaniel on Unsplash

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