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Farmers must extract more value from existing tech

By Rick Bayne

AUSTRALIAN DAIRY farmers are starting to embrace technology but aren’t necessarily getting its full benefits, according to a leading researcher.

Speaking at the Dairy Research Foundation’s 2018 Symposium at the University of Sydney, Dr Sabrina Lomax said Australian farmers were behind their European counterparts in using emerging technology but were starting to see its benefits, especially for repetitive tasks.

Dr Lomax is a research fellow in the Dairy Science Group at Sydney University and is involved in the ‘Enhancing the profitability and productivity of livestock farming through virtual herding technology’ project.

“Technology is creating a lot of data but farmers don’t necessarily use all that data,” Dr Lomax said.

From drone technologies for pastures to robotic dairies and automated milking systems with in-built sensors for measuring milk quality and animal health, farmers have multiple tools at their disposal.

“Farmers are using technology and it will continue to blossom, the problem is there’s no integration between these technologies,” Dr Lomax said.

“The challenge for the industry is to extract value from these technologies that aren’t being accessed as yet,” she said. “The technology is not that complex but we’re not using them as well as we can.”

The Dairy Science Group aims to connect with industry and farmers to find out what problems technology could address and then work with commercial partners who develop technology to solve those problems.

“Technology is supposed to make life easier or create more time for farmers to think about business management or how they can be more innovative, rather than doing the repetitive tasks they have traditionally done,” she said.

Dr Lomax said there had been a huge take-up of technology in Europe and there’s a trend towards that in Australia.

“Increasing farm sizes, decreasing numbers of farms, problems finding labour and an ageing workforce means we’re going to start relying more on technology to help us do our jobs rather than people,” she said.

“Technology will never replace what the brain does in terms of being creative and managing the business, but it can make repetitive tasks simpler and take them out of our hands so we can spend more time using the creative part of our brain.”

Dr Lomax said both younger and older farmers were turning to technology. “It’s not about creating new technologies; we need to use what technologies and data we to make us more efficient,” she said.

“Extracting value from existing and emerging technologies is the missing link at the moment.”