Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Precision dairy farming

Today I am Barcelona, Spain. What for? For the kick-off meeting of a new European Union project called EU-PLF. The PLF is an abbreviation for Precision Livestock Farming. This is a field that is relatively novel and can be defined as the use of technologies to measure physiological, behavior and production indicators on individual animals to improve management. In my opinion it is moving away from managing animals in a group towards managing animals individually. That is great, because increased labor efficiency leads farmers more and more to management animals in groups, while animals have individual requirements. So PLF can make management at the individual animal level possible under labour constraints. Farmers only have to pay attention to those animals that need their attention. The farmer does not have to disturb animals which are doing well. This idea has been identified as management by exception. An interesting overview paper has recently been written by Jeffrey Bewley, who is working at the University of Kentucky and in my opinion the person in the US working on Precision Dairy Farming.

In Europe quite a lot of initiatives are taken in the field of PLF. The EU-PLF has started as mentioned before. The preliminary version of the website is available now.In the Netherlands a project named Smart Dairy Farming, supported by a large number of funding agencies and private companies has started last year. A website is not yet available, but will be soon (I will let you know). Private companies are working on applications, for instance in relation to automatic milking systems, but also stand alone systems are becoming available.

For a number of years, in Europe the ECPLF conference is organized in, in 2013  for the 6th time and this time in Leuven. In North America, the second North American Precision Dairy Farming Conference will be organized in Rochester, Minnesota. It was a great honour for me that I was invited as keynote presenter. Apparently I did not do too bad during my previous keynote presentation at the first North American Precision Dairy Farming Conference. The topic of that presentation was Sensors and Milk Quality, the Quest for the Perfect Alert. It dealt with the difficulties that appear when you want to detect mastitis with sensors. Much research has been done in that field, but still the performance of sensor systems is not ideal. The presentation (and another one presented at the same conference is available on-line (I will add these presentations later, because does not let me upload files at the slow upload speed I have here at this hotel). Moreover, the paper I wrote for that meeting has later been rewritten and has been published in the scientific journal Sensors.

It is great that precision livestock farming is having so much interest at the moment. There are very large opportunities for this type of technique. You will certainly hear more on this item later on.