GLOBAL - Time, input and environmental costs on grassland dairy farms could be cut thanks to innovative robots being developed in Australasia.
Staff at AgResearch New Zealand and the University of Sydney now have prototype machines that could impact daily farming routines.
Fields could be monitored and cows herded quietly and without the need for labour, saving time and promoting welfare.
In New Zealand, Agri-Rover, a fully autonomous vehicle is underway that will assess soil compaction, paddock cover and potentially even pasture quality.
Meanwhile, Professor Kendra Kerrisk, a dairy researcher at the University of Sydney together with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics is exploring new ways to herd cattle.
With lameness and welfare experts both prescribing that farmers assess their herding habits to reduce dermatitis and necrotic toe, moving cows at their own pace is an important prevention strategy in animal health.
“Cows aren’t fazed by it at all, the herding process is calm and effective,” said Dr Kerrisk.
Further work is needed to develop the machine into an all-terrain, practical farm device, but Dr Kerrisk is certain that welfare can be improved and time can be saved.
She added: “While the robot showed exciting potential for use on a dairy farm, it would need to be adapted to operate autonomously on the terrain of dairy and its programming customised for dairy applications.”
Dr Andrew Manson of AgResearch New Zealand, project leader on Agri-Rover acknowledges that affordability is important, despite all the hard work and expensive materials that go into making sophisticated equipment.
The machine is designed for all weathers and is able to report monitoring results to a mobile phone or a computer.
“Always in the back of our mind was keeping it affordable,” said Dr Manson, often a sticking point with new farm technologies.
The same high level innovation and expansion was exhibited at the world’s premier agricultural machinery event this week in Hanover, Germany.
A 25 tonne, 692 horsepower Case Quadtrac was presented at Agritechnica, remarkably different to the 240 volt Agri-Rover, but both capable of contributing to the productivity surge that agriculture must yield in the coming years.
Livestock sustainability experts can show that modern agriculture has been successful in producing more from less. In the US, 9 million dairy cows today produce more milk than 26 million cows did in the 1940’s.
Management, welfare, genetics and nutrition were essential to this growth, but experts emphasise that technology was too.