There has been a strong emphasis on data collection for farm businesses in recent years, but ensuring it translates into real, profitable outcomes remains a key challenge for many, according to one Nuffield scholar.
Tasmanian dairy farmer Duncan Macdonald works with his wife and father to run two 200 ha dairy operations, which include more than 500 cows and a young stock block.
Supported by the Bonlac Supply Company and the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Foundation, Mr Macdonald used his 2017 Nuffield scholarship to investigate the practical application of data in dairy businesses.
“Farmers are no longer constricted to PC-based software, with web-based software now readily available and terms like drones, big data, internet of things, machine learning and artificial intelligence becoming common place,” Mr Macdonald said.
“However, a divide still exists between the plethora of these products and services, and the actual uptake on farm, especially in the Australian dairy industry where adoption of agtech has been fairly low.”
Mr MacDonald’s report focused on data collection and technology options for cow and paddock data, and cites immediate and emerging commercial options available to farmers.
“It’s estimated that only 35 per cent of Australian dairy farms are keeping consistent records of breeding and medical treatments in electronic form,” he said.
“In the past, keeping cow records, particularly at peak times of the year, has been an intensive, monotonous task and prone to error.
“New technologies, such as the creation of a wide range of cow-wearable sensors, have recently entered the market. The most advanced are able to detect and monitor oestrus, mastitis, lameness, calving and even the onset of illness.”
The second part of Mr Macdonald’s report focused on software and network options for collating information and maximising decision making from the technology, in areas such as pasture management.
“In terms of monitoring grass growth, farmers have access to a range of efficient and reasonably accurate techniques, but reports suggest only 20 per cent of farmers are measuring and assessing the data.”
Mr Macdonald said any software developments needed to focus on helping farmers make decisions from data, and if farmers do not trust the data, they will not make decisions from it.
“They want data summarised as valuable information, displayed in customised dashboards that provide notifications on what is working well and what isn’t.”
With applications for 2020 open, Mr Macdonald encouraged people to apply for a Nuffield scholarship.
“I urge those with a passion for primary production to apply — it’s a global opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.”