It’s in the way that you use it

Published 21 November 14

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While listening to a recent Radio 4 ‘Thought for the Day’, I was struck by the discussion that positive developments tend to accumulate slowly and embed unnoticed, whereas bad news tends to be sudden and therefore more visible. It concluded that for most, the standard of living and the way we do business has improved immeasurably over the past 50 years – but we do not generally celebrate this. 

This experience was closely followed by a doorstep encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness, who wanted to engage me in a conversation about climate change; somehow we got on to GM technology and its acceptability – or not. 

My visitor’s argument was that GM was bad for the environment. My counter to this was speculation that he had arrived in our village by car and that while combustion engines were ‘bad for the environment’, it was now universally accepted that the car was a ‘good thing’ because of the convenience and mobility it brings; GM as a new concept had yet to travel that path into acceptability.

Bringing these two ideas together, it occurred to me that in Britain, dairy farming has been a relatively keen adopter of new technology. The overall result – despite occasional teething problems – is that the working lives of dairy farmers and the cows they manage have improved. This indicates to me that there is no such thing as good or bad technology – it’s all in the way we apply and manage it, and crucially, whether it makes a positive difference.

Examples of technologies applied to dairy farming would include genetic evaluations and, most recently, the adoption of genomics. Best Linear Unbiased Prediction (BLUP) evaluation and DNA analysis have allowed more rapid and accurate assessments of breeding stock, which in turn allows the cows best suited to modern dairy farming systems to be bred. Thanks to these breeding technologies, the cow population in this country has turned the tide on longevity, fertility and somatic cell counts from negative to positive. 

In the next few years we hope to make a similar parallel progress on TB resilience and carcase quality.

Sometimes, the technology benefits come from an unexpected direction. In a recent conversation with a dairy farmer who has a large operation involving several staff, I found they had recently discovered ‘WhatsApp’. This application had improved communication and increased the smoothness with which the cows were managed from shift to shift; it also meant that many of the non-routine tasks were delivered in a more timely fashion, such as AI and lameness treatments. This small change to working practices had made a great difference to the way the team worked and, therefore, to profitability.

Of course, not all technologies will work for all farmers; it’s all in how they can be applied on your farm. But at DairyCo, we try and create opportunities to discover new technologies – and new applications for those technologies – from all routes. To broaden your horizons with new technology, try one of our Research Days (dates for early 2015 soon to be set) for some cutting edge ideas, or call one of our team.