Expert opinion

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Data potential: The farmer's attitude is key

After visiting the Global Dairy Farmers Congress in Indonesia I keep thinking about the use of new technology in dairy farms and the importance of the human factor in this.

It is clear that ICT is going to play a significant part in managing our dairy farms in the near future. We get data from the milking robot and milking parlour, but also from the mixer wagon and/or feeding robot. And what about the information gathered from pedometers, respiration tags and heat detection, and external information from our herd data systems and accountant? This all creates a huge amount of data.

The data challenge: integration and volumn

The challenge lies in integration of the available data and to deal with the amount of it. Farmers like using a simple system, that provides relevant information and will tell you in the morning what you have to do during the day. During the day, it would be nice to have notifications when needed (for example when a cow is in heat). Whether it is economically feasible to work like this depends on the availability and price of labour and a prerequisite is to have qualified and motivated users.

Making good use of data

In Wisconsin, USA, we recently visited a farmer who is using such a system. He delivers excellent results in heat detection, pregnancy rates and heifer growth. He showed us how he is using such a system on a daily basis and according to him, the system is really fast and detects attention points half a day earlier. But we shouldn’t forget the human factor in using ICT.

Data use is only as good as the person reading it

We visited another farm, which would be an excellent candidate for using the data from their milking robots. However, practice was not in line with this theory. When one of our group members was allowed to get a closer look in the system of the milking robots, we were stunned. A data system doesn’t lie and it showed us that signs of mastitis were detected by the machine, but not the farmer. The potential of data use was there, but we clearly saw that the human factor can make or break the success of data use. Warnings should be translated into actions, and waiting half a day can mean you are too late. Another factor is the influence of culture.

Educating your staff

We all know how difficult it is to motivate managers and workers. Human Resource Management (HRM) and appreciation, besides a good wage, is important. For me, the human factor is key in using the full potential of ICT and applying this on a farm. So educating our people in HRM on the farms is of utmost importance. Only then can we get the most out of the data generated.


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