Dairy farmers embrace ag-tech innovation
As the world moves towards more sustainable farming systems to feed a growing population, which is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, technology will play a crucial role. Many dairy farmers are adopting agri-technology where it makes commercial sense. On Irish dairy farms a range of technologies are in use.
- Herd management software: This software helps farmers track the health and productivity of their cows, monitor milk production, and manage breeding programmes.
- Wearable technology: Devices such as activity monitors and pedometers can help farmers track the health and activity levels of their cows, which can help detect early signs of illness or lameness.
- Automated milking systems: These systems use sensors and robotic arms to milk cows.
- Precision feeding systems: These systems use sensors to monitor the nutritional needs of cows and provide them with the right balance of feed.
- Cow monitoring systems: These systems use sensors to track the health and fertility of cows, allowing farmers to detect health problems or breeding opportunities earlier.
- Online marts saving farmers time when selling or buying stock.
There is a growing number of Irish companies innovating in the ag-tech space with some key drivers including environmental sustainability and food security, feeding a growing population while reducing the carbon footprint of farming. Other drivers include increasing efficiency by utilising technology to become more efficient, reduce costs and increase profits. Finally, improving animal welfare is enabled through vision tech, wearable tech and cow-monitoring technology.
The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027 is very much targeted towards environmentally friendly farming. Part of this new CAP is the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) initiative. This is a key driver in the uptake of new technology on farm. Solar panels, for example, are grant aided up to €90,000 at 60 per cent grant. TAMS 3 has led to several new ag-tech products being grant aided for the first time at rates of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent, which should accelerate ag-tech adoption.
While 2022 was an exceptional year in many ways for dairy farmers, 2023 will be very different says Philip O'Connor, head of farm support with ifac. “Dairy, like a lot of sectors in the Irish economy, suffered from significant inflation. Fertiliser prices tripled, feed prices doubled along with all other costs such as fuel, building, electricity and interest rates all increasing. This increased costs by up to 30 per cent. However, 2022 milk prices paid to farmers also rose at an exceptional rate. As a result, 2022 was very profitable year. “The landscape for 2023 is changing rapidly. Farmgate milk price has already dropped 12c on average over 2022 with further milk-price cuts predicated. Dairy farmers are now getting close to a break-even point and at risk of cost of production overtaking milk price. Along with profit fears for 2023, dairy farmers are working under increased environmental regulations.
"There are two key concerns for dairy farmers. Firstly, a potential decrease in stocking rates to meet new nitrates requirements. This will vary from farm to farm from no reduction in cow numbers to dramatic changes in number of cows being milked. Secondly, there is an increased slurry storage capacity requirement. This increased storage is a significant capital cost that will need to paid for over a five-to-10-year period. Overall, nitrates requirements mean that an individual dairy farmer either milks less cows, resulting in a drop in turnover, or they find more land for the cows they have leading to an increase in production costs," he says.
“Dairy farmers, to date this year, are very reluctant to decrease cow numbers and have gone to the market to lease additional land. This has resulted in land lease prices rising significantly with land lease values doubling from over 2022. Considering the profit warnings for 2023 there is a real danger some dairy farmers could place themselves under significant financial pressure.
“Farmers need to calculate what these changes mean. Should you keep the cows you have but lease more land? Should you build a new slurry tank? Assuming nitrates regulations continue to tighten, what will this mean for a family dairy farm?
These are the real financial questions dairy farmers are asking themselves today and there are no simple answers: each farmer will need to review and plan accordingly for their own farm.”