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AI and IoT Changing the Face of New Zealand’s Dairy Farming

Internet of things (IoT) and data-driven techniques are creating greater opportunities for smart dairy farming. As populations increase across the world, the demand for milk increases proportionally. In industrialised countries, dairy products are consumed at a higher rate than in undeveloped countries. Dairy farmers’ operational concerns continue to be labour-related. Finding trustworthy labour and paying fair salaries without jeopardising cow health is a major challenge.

Without a doubt, improved technological solutions for increasing milk supply are required to meet this increased demand for milk products. To address this, an agri-tech company has developed an AI technology, designed to provide farmers with an “intelligent eye” to keep track of the health of their herds. They had earlier developed the world’s first sheep facial recognition system. The company s currently testing the technology on five dairy farms in the lower South Island, with the potential to grow to about 50 in the future.

Dairy farmers are currently utilising health sensor monitoring systems to reduce human labour while still providing crucial care for their cows. This technology has enhanced crop production and improved real-time monitoring, harvesting, processing and marketing.

The automated on-farm monitoring system, powered by artificial intelligence software, allows for early detection of conditions such as lameness, an issue that costs the dairy industry millions of dollars. It uses a non-intrusive on-farm camera and monitoring system that collects tens of thousands of data points from every cow, every day, to provide an “intelligent eye” over livestock.

The cows were identified visually using a process similar to the company’s earlier sheep facial recognition software which gives visual verification of an animal’s condition over time to provide a better holistic understanding of the health of the herd. This company uses algorithms to analyse the captured images and provide a detailed report containing the current health of the farm.

In a study, few researchers evaluated the ability of commercially available technologies to identify unwell cows as well as the impact of using such technology on herd performance. The results showed that the system was able to identify the majority of the cows in need of attention, though some human intervention was still required. The results showed that there were no significant negative effects on herd performance for cows managed with the strategy that depended mostly on data from the devices used.

An article by OpenGov Asia reported that New Zealand’s Agri-tech Industry Transformation Plan sets out key areas for the economic development of the sector and lines up well with many of the findings of the Productivity Commission. In addition to addressing issues around investment, it is targeting the agriculture sector’s ability to match research and development capabilities with international opportunities.

The Minister of Economic Development said that New Zealanders have been on a journey to work out ways on how to be productive and sustainable in their farming practices and they believe that they have value and ideas to offer the world.

The dairy sector will continue to adapt as technology advances. Drones are being used to scan fields, facial recognition software is being created for animals, and mobile phone apps are being utilised to monitor herd health in the dairy industry’s future.

With exciting and new technologies on the horizon, many opportunities exist for monitoring on a dairy farm. While technological advancements are exciting and allow for new levels of management, care should be taken to ensure that dairy farmers are given useful information with which to react.

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