Mac­Don­ald takes to the skies

Dairy News Australia - - MANAGEMENT - RICK BAYNE

TAS­MA­NIAN FARMER Dun­can Mac­Don­ald has taken to the skies and the clouds — both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively — in pur­suit of innovation. Mr Mac­Don­ald, the win­ner of a Nuffield Aus­tralia 2017 Schol­ar­ship, spoke at West Vic Dairy’s 2017 innovation day about how tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing the farm more prof­itable. He’s done tra­di­tional up­dates, such as cup re­movers, au­to­matic teat spray­ing and auto-draft­ing to save on labour, but he’s also in­tro­duced drones to mon­i­tor pas­tures and on­line record keep­ing. “I’ve al­ways had an in­ter­est in tech­nol­ogy and what it can do for our farm,” he said. The Mac­Don­ald farm in north-west Tas­ma­nia, about 20 km in­land from Burnie, has two 500-cow herds each on about 200 hectares, along with a run-off block. Drones mea­sur­ing pas­ture biomass have had some suc­cess, but Mr Mac­Don­ald ad­mits their value will only get bet­ter as tech­nol­ogy de­vel­ops. “We’ve had rea­son­ably good in­di­ca­tions of pas­ture biomass but there are some is­sues with con­sis­tency and to­tal ac­cu­racy,” he said. “It de­pends a bit on where you’re com­ing from; if you’re not mea­sur­ing at all and have no in­for­ma­tion you’re go­ing to be bet­ter off. I’ve got no doubt the tech­nol­ogy will im­prove and could be re­ally use­ful go­ing for­ward.” Adopt­ing on­line cen­tralised farm record keep­ing has helped to stream­line pro­cesses. “Get­ting ev­ery­thing in one spot has been help­ful. We have mul­ti­ple sources of in­for­ma­tion from cow and pas­ture in­for­ma­tion to OH&S record keep­ing and have de­vel­oped our own sys­tem us­ing an on­line form-based ser­vice,” Mr Mac­Don­ald said. “We have cus­tom forms to suit ev­ery­thing we want to record on our farm and then we feed them into a Google cal­en­dar set-up to track it.” Mr Mac­Don­ald said the changes were help­ing. “It works for our sys­tem be­cause I have con­trol over it and I have in­ter­est to play with it and make it work. It has taken a lot of onus off paper-based records, which were dif­fi­cult to con­tent with.” It’s too early to tell if these changes have made the farm more prof­itable. “The bot­tom line from the things we’ve been im­ple­ment­ing is dif­fi­cult to as­sess,” Mr Mac­Don­ald said. “Things like cup re­movers and au­to­matic teat spray­ing to get it down to a one-per­son unit; I can see a clear labour sav­ing on. Some things like health and safety record keep­ing I might not see the day-to-day fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit but it’s pro­tect­ing our busi­ness from po­ten­tial li­a­bil­i­ties and hope­fully min­imis­ing risk.” “We want to see how we can use that data on farm to ac­tion and make de­ci­sions on.” Mr Mac­Don­ald is con­tin­u­ing re­search as part of his Nuffield Schol­ar­ship, which has al­ready taken him to Brazil, Amer­ica, Europe, Africa and Ire­land. “It’s been re­ally good to see how Aus­tralia sits in the con­text of world-wide agri­cul­ture. I think we’re pretty well placed to have low-cost pro­duc­tion and high food-se­cu­rity sys­tems.”

Dun­can Mac­Don­ald.

Mike Waite, LIC, and Matt Aiken­head, ABS, at the WestVic Dairy Innovation Day.

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