AS the pace of agritech development accelerates dairy farms of the near future will be a hive of activity with robots milking and feeding the animals, and big data becoming alternative on-farm vets.

During recently held webinars organised by the Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) focusing on the dairy industry participants discussed what the future dairy farm might look like.

Duncan Forbes, head of dairy at AgriEPI, outlined his vision for the future of milk production and what research he is involved with in the industry. Starting with an explanation of what the AgriEPI centre did, he explained it was one of four centres set up to deliver the UK government’s agri-tech strategy.

These centres were set up to respond to the global challenge of sustainable food production given that the population is expected to rise to 9.5bn people by 2050. This in turn would require 60-70% more food production, but with political pressure to do so with less environmental impact.

AgriEPI has invested in three dairy centres – SRUC, Dumfries; Harper Adams University, Shropshire; and Kingshay, Somerset – where it aims to carry out a number of different research projects.

One of the projects is the South-west Dairy Development Centre, in Somerset, which is designed to harness the power of robotics and sensor technology. It has state-of-the-art housing, but one of the key drivers is that it works with precision grazing to optimise cow welfare and productivity.

All kinds of automated new technology, like this feeding system, plays a role in the new S-W Dairy Centre

All kinds of automated new technology, like this feeding system, plays a role in the new S-W Dairy Centre

Duncan presented a detailed overview of some of the technology being used at the unit including robotic milking, automated feed systems, controlled environments, slurry handling technology, cow activity, precision grazing technology and data usage.

“If you look after the cows, they will look after you,” said Duncan. “I think the dairy farmer of the future is in a really exciting place to be.

“Technological innovation is accelerating and growing at a huge pace. It’s a massive challenge for producers to choose the right technology for their businesses to optimise animal welfare and productivity.

“The challenge for innovators is to integrate their system with others to enable data driven decisions to be occurring and that is the key opportunity for both producers and innovators.

“More importantly, the dairy farm of the future needs to be an exciting place for people already involved, but also for future generations to attract new blood in a world where we are competing with so many other choices.

“As far as I’m concerned the future of dairy is one where agri-technology is going to be key to business resilience to enable us to produce more with less impact,” he added.