Technological advancement is nearly synonymous with agriculture, and has been for a number of years.
We see such advancements in crop varieties, global positioning technology, micronutrient application to crops, and off-site monitoring of machinery by computer connections.
It’s miles and miles from the days of 12-foot press drills, Super 90 International combines, and rapeseed before canola was developed. And yet those were the farm reality of my youth.
While technological advancement is the norm across all areas of farming, perhaps the greatest move to tech farming can be found in a dairy farm.
Very few aspects of the modern dairy are not tied directly to a computer program which crunches the numbers, makes the decisions, and does much of the work these days.
Take for example cow selection.
That was once reliant on the eye of the herdsman. There was a ‘look’ a good cow was supposed to have, and you wanted a cow that was as close to the picture perfect animal as possible.
If you were selecting an animal from your herd, you made sure it was a good looking cow. At a sale the visual appraisal was a key factor in how much you might bid on a new animal.
Flash forward to a recent dairy sale held in Alberta where the top seller wasn’t even walked through the ring.
The heifer fetched a bid of $140,000 passed largely on a score of 2544, the highest of all genomics tested animals at the sale.
Genomics looks at cattle from the DNA level.
In dairy cattle breeding programs, genomic selection allows breeders to identify genetically superior animals at an early age. In fact, animals that have been DNA tested can receive an accurate GEBV (genomic estimated breeding values) before they reach sexual maturity.
The dairy sector has always considered the paper details of animals. A farmer was aware of how much milk a cow produced, and that is of course a key element of any good cow.
But genomics are far beyond the gallons of milk going into the tank. They promise predictability of performance not just of the individual cow when it matures, but of the potential to pass on its key traits to offspring.
It is a sure bet the $140,000 cow will be flushed for embryos so as to produce many daughters. The sire will likely be selected again using statistics that a computer program will suggest compliments the cow’s already superior genetics, with the mating done through artificial insemination.
The dairyman’s input into the entire process comes down to launching a computer program or two, and reading the results.
It is a system increasingly based on data which frankly only experts in the fields of genetics will ever understand, and shows how far down the technological path one segment of farming has gone on terms of animal selection and breeding.
And that says nothing about computer operated milking parlours which are calibrated to the individual cow. Everything from milking time to the feed nutrient package provided determined by the data provided to a computer program.
Even data entry is often beyond a human element with feed consumed, and milk produced, mechanically recorded and automatically detailed to a computer.
The modern dairy has more in common with NASA command today that it does with a farm of the 1960s.
And it is likely the trend of tech in a dairy is a precursor of its growing influence in all aspects of farming.