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Sustainable milking systems

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Prof Edmond Harty is CEO of Dairymaster. He tells Matt O’Keeffe about the Dairymaster business, its development of new dairy technologies and its focus on improving the sustainability of dairy farming.

Edmond first lays out his priorities: “Our focus has always been on dairy farming. What is it that will make an impact for our customers and why is it that they buy our products? Innovation is a big part of the answer to those questions and that revolves around how you can add value to the product for your customers to either increase their bottom line, to make their work easier or to make their businesses more sustainable.”

Novel technologies
Dairymaster has always sought to innovate on its own terms rather than adopt other companies’ technologies, Edmond explains: “Historically, we would always have sought better ways of milking cows, right back to my father’s beginnings in the business. A big part of milking cows is the interaction between the liner and the cow’s udder. We looked at the best research on the subject coming out of Teagasc Moorepark and used that research to improve liner operation. At the time, I was studying engineering and then undertook a PhD in milking research. Measurement of performance is central to analysing milking efficiencies. Being able to predict both performance and reliability is a big part of improving the technologies involved in milking cows. Our work resulted in being able to milk cows more quickly and to get more milk out of the cow, all the while improving udder health. That analysis has been recognised by customers around the world.”

Future-facing
“Sustainability has always been a core issue for Dairymaster: “We have always undertaken our research and development on the basis of doing the right thing for the future. That changes with time, whether that’s from a milk producer’s perspective or from the consumer’s point of view.”
Edmond recognises that future dairy technology will incorporate many of the current technologies to deliver better results: “It’s all about efficiency. Sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand. Looking at the Irish market, farms and dairy herds are getting bigger, and that’s important in the context of profitability, as measured by margin and output. Milk price volatility is a big issue. Combating volatility includes growing output sustainably, and that requires increased efficiency. There’s no doubt in my mind that once herd size goes above 200 cows, the most efficient means of milking is by rotary. It is by far the most efficient means. Studies across 340 farms in the UK showed that labour cost in terms of hours worked per cow per year is at its most efficient when a rotary is used, compared to a herringbone or an automated milking system (AMS). The rotary system cuts 11 hours per cow per year off the time taken to milk compared to the current robot systems. Milking a lot of cows at the same time is key to efficiency. In money terms there was a 7.5c/L margin difference between the systems.”

The next milking evolution
Dairymaster is prioritising research into automating the rotary milking system.
“We have specialised in rotary parlours and have just commissioned a new 100-point rotary milking parlour in Qatar,” Edmond says. “One-hundred cows can be milked every eight minutes in that parlour. That’s of a size and scale that’s beyond what most customers require, but it shows what is possible. Increasingly, there will be more automation in the rotary parlour and that’s something we have been working on for some time. A number of the big challenges in developing an automated rotary milking system have been overcome. The system, as envisaged, will still include a manual operator, but with a much-reduced labour role. As herd size grows, both in Ireland and internationally, there will continue to be increased interest in rotary milking systems because of the benefits in time, efficiency and increased margin.”

Technical advantage
Edmond outlines the advantages of the Dairymaster system: “We are an extremely technical company. We are not competing on price. What we do is add value for our customers. Just to highlight one area, we have developed a milk cooling system that is considerably more efficient and cost-effective than other tanks. As of today, if every farmer in Ireland had a Dairymaster milk tank we would save the dairy industry, over the next 10 years, €171m in energy costs. The system drives efficiencies in milk cooling and also utilises the heat from the milk to heat water. That delivers a reduction of up to 65 per cent in energy requirements compared to the other available systems. The actual structure of our tanks also adds efficiency. Once the milk is cooled down to the required level, it will stay at that level for up to 24 hours without further cooling. For the average Irish dairy farm, the Dairymaster milk cooling system can deliver a €40,000 saving over 20 years, even allowing for increases in energy costs.”

Long-term commitment
Every dairy farmer’s nightmare is to have a breakdown in the milking parlour, especially at peak production. How does Dairymaster deliver ongoing service and back-up? “Farmers are very reliant on their milking systems. It starts with improved design that increases reliability. After that, we prioritise our back-up service through our dealer network. Even here, we are using the most up-to-date communications systems to minimise disruption to the milking operation. Remote monitoring is becoming more popular. In terms of milk cooling, it is possible to monitor the cooling system and run diagnostics to identify possible problems. That technology is already commonplace in cars, tractors and combines, for example. It is now available in dairy technology systems. Monitoring cows through our Moo Monitor system is another variation of that remote monitoring technology.”

Competing for staff
Dairymaster has a large cohort of highly skilled staff. Being based in Causeway, in Co Kerry, can be an advantage in procuring staff and retaining them: “A reputation for innovation is an attraction for our team, many of whom are graduates in electronics, engineering, software, fabrication and a range of relevant skills. If you can show that you are doing something interesting, then people will gravitate and be interested in joining. What Dairymaster also offers are opportunities to work over a number of areas and be exposed to a range of skills and competencies. The attraction of a Kerry lifestyle, free from traffic jams and long commutes, is also an advantage.”

A personal approach
With a degree in engineering from University of Limerick, a doctorate from University College Dublin (UCD) and a spell at Stanford Business School also on his CV, it’s hardly surprising that Edmond takes a personal interest in the development of high-level education and knowledge-building resources, including taking on a role as adjunct professor at UCD.
“We do interact with a whole range of colleges and universities. That includes UCD, UL, IT Tralee and Teagasc. That’s how we will ensure Dairymaster succeeds and the country also succeeds in the years ahead,” Edmond says.

Tags: sustainability milk prices dairy farming Professor Edmond Harty CEO Dairymaster automated rotary milking system dairy technology systems