We like to look back through our comfortable rose-colored glasses and speculate that our dairying forefathers never rocked the boat or had it rocked by challenges and change. We conveniently forget they lived – and farmed—through the inventions of cars, tractors, milking machines and telephones. And, perhaps, a World War or two might have had an impact on how they went about their business. Definitely! Therefore, we can agree that at least the core values of dairying today are the same in many ways. We mustn’t forget that they too had the passionate desire always to improve. They embraced new technology because, in their day, as in ours, technology is an important driver of dairy progress.
Having acknowledged that technology and smart decision making does not mean that you can wait until the annual New Year’s Eve introspection to evaluate how far you’ve come. This could mean your analysis is “too little too late!” Certainly some evaluation is better than none. But it would be sad to discover that your information isn’t accurate. Even worse would be if the past year spawned some good ideas, but they weren’t in a well-thought-out order, and you wasted valuable time and money running in the wrong direction.
Are You Moving with the Times?
Perhaps your reluctance to acknowledge problems stems from the fact that you’re happy with your evaluation. You see that you’ve had success on your operation and, overall, your operation is as good as or maybe better than when you began it or took it over. Now the danger becomes that you could become complacent. Planning for progress never has an end point. Markets, cows, genetics and every other logistical line impacting your operation can change with or without your input. Your job is to make sure those inevitable changes are positive and profitable.
Technology is here! It’s time to lose the wait!
Smart farming means a lot more today than simply having smart phones and other digital gadgets. Indeed, your success turns on technology to the extent that you are able to harness automation and information to enhance productivity. Profitable dairy farming means effective use of all resources and technology is key to unlocking that effectiveness.
Technology puts your time to the best use
Here are four main ways that you will want to analyze, harness and put technology into effect if you are to make efficient use of all your dairy resources. First off, technology provides ways for farmers to make the best use of their most limited commodity – time. The first benefits will accrue in time saved. The second benefits come with cost savings, which are always welcome. Closely related to cost savings is the impact that technology makes by increasing revenue. Finally, the ultimate goal and reward of technology is higher milk production. These four are so closely inter-related that they all affect farm profitability, which is one of the fundamental pillars of a sustainable dairy operation.
How many ways are you using technology to save time?
As a quick check, tick all the boxes that are putting your time to the best use:
- Activity monitoring
- Heat detection
- ID system – RFID system
- Sort gates
- EZ feed
- Social Media
This is by no means a full list. When you look at your checkmarks are you happy with where you’re at?
“I know it’s available, but I’m still not using it.”
They never make movies about people who give in to fear. Remember the motivating phrase in Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” Fear often stops us from realizing a dream. In the face of rapid change and the unknown and the unfamiliar, there are those who are against mechanized farming and technology in general. They long for the good ol’ days. They probably don’t have time to arrive at the conclusion that it was mechanization and technology that has allowed more people to accomplish more, including leaving the farm to pursue other (probably mechanized) jobs.
Investment or Expense?
After years of financial belt-tightening, it is almost a knee-jerk reaction to ask, “How much is it going to cost me?” And perhaps at the same time as you’re getting a handle on that you need to ask the second question, “How much is it going to cost me if I don’t do this?” Profitability depends on these two answers. After answering the first two questions but before signing any purchase or work contract, you should have the answers to a lot more questions. In the case of technology, “What is the full cost of this product? What hardware, software, and devices are required? How much is maintenance? Is there a cost for data storage?”
Everything breaks. Everything needs fixing at some point. You absolutely must know who to call. The product may be amazing but service is key. How many times have you heard someone talking about the computer age and saying, “It’s great when it’s working, but it’s hell when it isn’t working.” Service can be more important than the technology itself. After you have given up an old method of carrying out a dairy task, it can be devastating if the new technology crashes. You need an immediate response to your call for help. Waiting days or weeks is not an option. Having the right name and number and confidence in the person or company has to be a major part of the purchase agreement.
Know What the Error Rate Is
First and foremost, what the error rate is. Are there false positives in testing? Are there conditions under which the new technology is especially challenged? What percent of the devices fail per year? Any reputable company should be willing and able to tell you how durable their products are. Nothing is perfect, but you are seeking to have the results that are obtained make a noticeable improvement on current levels of accuracy… human or mechanical.
Getting to the next level.
Today there isn’t much that changes faster than technology. You have committed time, strategic planning and finances to the purchase you’ve made. It’s important to know that you won’t be left falling behind. The first to be sure of is, “What is the warranty on the product?” With that registered and filed the next consideration is, “What is the upgrade policy?” If you just purchased a 2.0 version of the product and a 3.0 version is released next month, how much will it cost to upgrade? Dead ends don’t just stop you. They kill your profits too!
Will the company provide a list of existing users you can talk with? Sales pitches need real time backup. Is the documented research working in actual applications? Each answer adds to your knowledge base. When you are far enough along to have questions, nothing beats being able to talk with someone who has had experience with the product, consultant or technology that you are considering. Once you have made the connection, ensure that you have your questions ready. Six months after you are committed financially is a little late to consider, “Gee I wished I had asked about that.” A key point to consider is, “What does this purchase provide that is above and beyond what you have now?” When talking with those who are using the technology be sure to ask, “How long will it take for you or your staff to become proficient in its operation?”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
At the end of the day, you may decide to keep things the way they are. Regardless of what you do, the dairy industry is getting wired up, plugged and turned on. Are you keeping up with technology? Or is technology passing you by?