meta Dairy has 100 years of herd data collection. :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Dairy has 100 years of herd data collection.

For more than a century, the dairy industry has collected herd data from producers, informing breeding and genetics research. Credit: ACES College

The dairy industry in the United States has a comprehensive data collection programme that collects herd production information from farmers across the country. The programme provides critical input for cattle breeding and genetics, and its collaborative structure benefits both producers and scientists. A new University of Illinois study delves into the program’s century-long history, emphasising its relevance for modern agriculture and digital data collection.

“The National Cooperative Dairy Herd Improvement Program (NCDHIP) is an interesting case study because it demonstrates how to translate data collection benefits for all dairy producers. Its model can be used to inspire other agricultural sectors “says Jared Hutchins, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, which is part of the University of Iowa’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. Hutchins is the study’s lead author, and it was published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

The data collection programme began in response to a new innovation in the dairy industry. The Babcock test, developed in 1890, provided a method for measuring the butterfat content of milk.

“Previously, it was common for dairy farmers to dilute their milk in order to be paid more. Farmers were now paid based on butterfat rather than milk weight. The Babcock test caused a paradigm shift in dairy, incentivizing producers to learn about and fund research on this new metric “Hutchins asserts.

With the collection of herd production data, it became possible to determine which bulls sired the highest-producing cows, information that could previously only be obtained by aggregating farm results. USDA scientists began publishing bull evaluation lists, which dairy farmers could use to make breeding decisions.

The introduction of artificial insemination in the 1930s, and later the ability to freeze and ship semen over long distances, increased the number of offspring that each bull could produce dramatically. These new technologies have significantly increased the amount of data available for breeding and genetics research, making it even more beneficial to producers.

Through local Dairy Herd Improvement Associations, the NCDHIP facilitates nationwide data collection (DHIAs). Helmer Rabild, a Danish immigrant who worked for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, founded the first DHIA in 1905. He modelled the cooperative structure after milk testing cooperatives in his home country of Denmark. Rabild was quickly hired by the USDA to establish DHIAs across the country, and the number of participating farmers grew rapidly.

Despite the proliferation of large farms in recent years, the programme remains popular among producers. According to Hutchins, three key factors contribute to the NCDHIP’s success.

“First, there are private benefits for producers, which motivates them to participate in this system and contribute data to the platform. There is power in scaling up, gathering data from a diverse set of farmers, and creating value for the entire sector. Farmers, on the other hand, receive immediate benefits such as a benchmarking report “He observes.

Another critical aspect is data interoperability, which means that the programme uses universal data standards that allow data from different platforms to work together.

Finally, the cooperative data governance model gives producers control over the use and processing of their data. The NCDHIP is a partnership between cooperatives, farmers, and the USDA.

“We frequently see a misalignment of interests between data producers and those who hold and use the data. With its cooperative structure, the NCDHIP has solved this problem in a very clever way “Hutchins asserts.

Other agricultural sectors may have one or two of these characteristics, but according to Hutchins, dairy is unique in having all three, which is critical for the system to function properly.

“With so many novel ways to measure data, we are currently in the midst of a digital revolution in agriculture. The question is what we do with the data, how we control and manage it, and how we distribute the benefits. We wanted to demonstrate that the dairy industry could leverage their data revolution in a way that benefited all dairy farmers “Hutchins comes to a close.

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