By Jan Niehaus
An associate professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University, Mike Gunderson reported, "We have half as many dairy cows in the United States as we had in 1960, but produce two times more milk." We owe this incredible increase in productivity to genetics and mechanization – automation specifically.
"Consider the farmer who wants to put in another milking parlor. He will need either people or robots. Robots not only save labor costs, but also they measure the temperature of the cows, their feed intake, and how much activity they are getting," Gunderson said.
Dairy farming requires the same sophisticated controls that crop and other livestock farming operations require, but Bryan Wichmann, an application engineer based in Appleton, Wisconsin, is fully attuned to dairy farmers' singular needs. An employee of Crescent Electric Supply, headquartered in East Dubuque, Il., Wichmann explained: "Milking operations have special requirements. Around-the-clock milking operations require a power supply close to that of a data center, so standby power with auto throw over bumpless transfer is being used on state of the art farms. PLC-controlled switchboards with motor-operated breakers, communication to the generators, and energy metering are now standard on our customers' farms. Every minute of lost milking is lost profit because there are no 'weekend shifts' to make up lost production. Also, herd health is impacted after just a few hours of lost power when milking schedules are interrupted and cooling systems are not in operation."
The power demands of dairy farming set the sector apart from other agricultural specialties, so, too, do its waste management challenges. "Farms that care for upwards of 7,000 cows have manure facilities that rival the wastewater treatment facilities of small cities. Our ag customers need the support required to operate industrial processes involving the latest ePACs, VFDs, and HMIs. We are committed to helping our customers keep their facilities running around the clock, profitably, and safely," said Wichmann.
Technology, Gunderson noted, will not only increase efficiency and productivity, but also will reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, an issue of increasing concern globally and for farmers themselves.
Niehaus, LEED-GA, is an instructional designer, writer, and the president and founder of Communication by Design (communicationbydesign.net). Reach her at 314-644-4135 or Jan@Communication ByDesign.net.