Agri-EPI Centre has launched its state-of-the-art South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset, which aims to offer a fresh vision for sustainable UK milk production.
The £1.36 million, 180-cow dairy unit provides a truly innovative environment for the development, testing and demonstration of new technologies and techniques to support sustainable, efficient and high health and welfare milk production.
The centre combines innovative building design and management systems to create a highly efficient, low cost dairy system, with the capital cost of developing the dairy from scratch amounting to less that £8,000 per cow. The centre’s remit is to offer a platform for industry to trial and review new ideas for the benefit of dairy farmers throughout the UK.
Duncan Forbes, Agri-EPI project manager for the new centre said: Our mantra here is, ‘measure it to manage it’. Sensor technology is being used to gather data to enable us to maximise precision in many aspects of feeding, production, health and welfare across the farm: indoors and outdoors, by satellite, and on and inside the cows. The automation of many processes within the dairy releases skilled staff to devote more of their time to cow health and welfare.
Precision grazing is at the top of the centre’s agenda. While the number of robotic dairies in the UK continues to increase, and it is recognised that grass can be a least-cost feed for dairy herds, successful grazing has been difficult to implement on many robotic units.
The new centre aims to tackle this by using emerging technology such as hyperspectral imaging and satellite data to monitor and predict grass growth in its surrounding paddocks, allowing the herd access to up to three fresh areas of grazing per day. A network of tracks and flexible paddocks encourage cow flow between the between the paddocks and the robot milkers.
A number of trials are already underway or planned for the centre. It is one of three UK ‘testbeds’ for the 5G RuralFirst project, the UK’s most ambitious connectivity project. Led by Cisco and involving a consortium of partners it aims to demonstrate how connectivity will benefit rural communities and business across the UK. A number of technologies utilising 5G data are to be trialled, including cow collars, monitoring health and welfare, digital systems to monitor cow fertility through milk analysis and, in the future, a ‘virtual vet’ system connecting stockpeople to a vet using augmented reality.
The Dairy Development Centre has been established in close partnership with independent dairy specialists Kingshay, who manage the facility. The Centre has been established by Agri-EPI using funding from Innovate UK and support from industry partners.
Welcoming the Centre’s launch today at an event attended by figures from industry, academia and government, Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead, said:
The new South West Dairy Centre fits very well with Innovate UK’s vision to support the development and adoption of new technologies to help UK farming become more sustainable, efficient and profitable. It is good that the new centre is now operational and we hope it will become a central resource for use by the UK dairy industry.