Courtesy of a presentation to the recent Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU): College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) sustainable dairy webinar, UFU dairy committee chair, Mervyn Gordon, inferred that automation is not a silver bullet when it comes to solving the labour crisis in the dairy industry.
Specifically, he indicated that new technologies cannot fully replace the flexibility, dexterity and judgement of the human workforce.
I couldn’t disagree more. Personally, I would like my cows to be milked to the same high standard time after time after time!
Moreover, modern tech is capable of identifying problems relating to high cell counts and pending clinical mastitis problems much faster and more effectively than us mere mortals.
The one problem that I have with automation within agriculture – whether it be robotic milking or some other form of tech – is the extremely hefty service add-ons that accompanies it.
Specifically, where robotic milking is concerned, I would like to see all the manufacturers committing to making spare and replacement parts widely available for a period of at least 20 years post the launch of a new model.
In this way, the farmers making the initial acquisition can enjoy a reasonable period of cost-free robotic milking (everything is relative of course) after the 10-year repayment period on the machine has been completed.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Lemken manufacturing plant in Germany last week.
Already, a significant proportion of the assembly and preparation work is undertaken by robots.
Moreover, the management of the business made it very clear that automation is the future: they can’t get enough of it.
And, I have heard similar comments made by leading decision makers within the Irish food industry over recent months.
So, why should farming be any different in this regard? The scope to drive automation within production agriculture is immense.
It is worth noting that the Lemken CEO foresaw the imminent development of autonomous vehicles, which would have the capacity to meet the individual nutrient and weed control needs of individual crops within a plant.
It’s pretty mind blowing stuff. But who am I to disbelieve him?
I just hope that the days are soon coming to an end when Irish dairy farmers stop looking so old and worn out by the age of 40, following decades of manually attaching and removing clusters.
And let’s not forget about those old biddies who take absolute delight in kicking six bells out of those trying to attach the clusters when the mood so takes them! Let them take their frustrations out on a robot, I say!