Monday, February 26, 2024

Purpose-led dairy saddles up tech

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On the dairy farm of this AgriStar, GPS tracking, climate-modelling and data analysis are complemented by ‘field tech’.
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Pete Morgan, who farms 265 hectares in the Waikato with his wife Ann, is one of a new generation of farmers passionate about spearheading a proactive and tech-friendly approach to the changing agricultural landscape. On the dairy farm of this AgriStar, nominated by UBCO, GPS tracking, climate-modelling and data analysis are complemented by ‘field tech’ such as virtual fencing systems and electric utility bikes.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Mostly habit — a minute before my 5am alarm. Then a few yoga stretches, a cuppa, the news, and I’m out with the dog for milking. “A sense of purpose” would be the best way to describe it.

What does an average work day look like for you?
With the great team I have now, I can do half the milking in the morning to overlap with them, and plan the day. This lets me get some tractor spraying, cropping groundwork or maintenance done before breakfast. I often also have a Zoom meeting or management class to teach in the mornings, and then admin and visits from other farmers or industry people in the afternoon. But the best part is a perfect coffee with Ann, my partner in life and farming, at 11am.

You are a big proponent of new technology. How does it support your work?
We utilise a range of devices where data can converge and give us actionable insights — it’s perfect for dairying, because it’s a strong industry, has the intensity to benefit from optimisation, and offers immediate productivity and economic feedback. 

We use UBCO electric utility bikes because they’re simple, fast, and lower our energy and carbon footprint. They fit with the Halter virtual fencing system, because they’re almost silent and have less impact on the cows. This has transformed the way we think of our operation by making complex combinations of actions far easier. 

Some farmers might be hesitant to switch to an electric farm bike. How have you found the transition to UBCO?
Actually, changing from a standard combustion-engine bike — which is noisy, heavy, has a scorching-hot exhaust pipe, and feels like you’re fighting it the whole time — has been amazing. The UBCO’s centre of gravity is very low and it only weighs 60kg, so most of us on the farm can easily lift it. That’s compared to 100kg or more for conventional two-wheelers, or 300kg for a four-wheeled vehicle. Everything that we do has been pared back in terms of physical effort, but stepped up in terms of our involvement with the animals, and our ability to observe and experience what’s really going on. 

What do you see for the future of your industry?
We have always adapted to change in farming. We need to apply the same energy to respond to the reality of climate change and the world we now live in.

This will require us to be resilient while reducing our impact on emissions, water, and biodiversity. True sustainability for farmers will need to take into account our social licence, consumer demands, regulatory requirements and a strong and stable economic return.

More: “It lets you glide through the herd like a ghost”: For deeper insight into how Pete Morgan is decarbonising his dairy herd, click here.

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