Bobby Volesky

Cutting-edge technology lets dairies go robotic

Dairy farmers from generations past would shake their heads if they visited the DH&P Supplies & Equipment Ltd. booth at Agri-Trade.

Dairy farmers from generations past would shake their heads if they visited the DH&P Supplies & Equipment Ltd. booth at Agri-Trade.

The Blackfalds-based business is promoting some cutting edge technology at Red Deer’s 30th annual agricultural equipment exposition — technology that’s about as far removed from three-legged stools and milk pails as you can get.

“You can go fully robotic, so you sit at your desk all day and everything happens for you,” said Chris Culp, a salesman with the company.

He described how in today’s automated dairies, operators rarely lay a hand on their cows.

“Basically, they milk themselves,” said Culp of the animals’ interation with computer-controlled, automatic milkers. “They go in when they want to go in and get milked.”

The milk production of each animal is monitored, as is its feed consumption. If something appears amiss, a text is sent to the farmer.

Culp contrasts such systems with earlier labour-intensive dairy operations.

“You’d chase them all in and spend three hours milking and then another two hours with the chores, and then you could go home at 9 o’clock at night, or whatever.”

DH&P Supplies & Equipment is one of the businesses located in Agri-Trade’s Technology Pavilion, an area devoted to innovative ag products.

Dianne Smirl, the show’s manager, said she wanted to concentrate such exhibits together this year. She explained that many producers — especially younger ones — attend Agri-Trade to see new and innovative technology.

A designated pavilion makes this easier.

Regina-based Farmtronics is showcasing some of the latest precision farming products in the Technology Pavilion. Most utilize satellite-based global positioning systems.

“What you can do with them is unbelievable, really,” said Dave Carpenter, a sales rep with the company.

Farmers operating precision farming equipment need only establish a line and then manually turn at the end of the field — responsibilities Carpenter anticipates will eventually disappear.

“I don’t think it will be that many years and they’ll be doing it all remotely.”

Kim Keller, co-founder of Saskatoon’s Farm At Hand, was pitching a “multi-platform, cloud-based farm management program” that can be operated on a smartphone.

“It allows farmers to keep track of what they’re doing in their fields: their seeding, spraying, harvest activities; what’s in their bins, their grain bags, their contracts, their deliveries, as well as equipment management.

“It’s seed-to-sale management.”

A partner with her brother and parents in a 10,000-acre Saskatchewan grain farm, Keller gets inspiration for ongoing improvements to Farm At Hand from her own day-to-day ag operations.

“I find when I’m on-farm I get a lot of my ideas. I become my own customer.”

Not far from Keller’s display, Bobby Volesky was showing off some unique technology in wireless blockage monitoring systems for air seeders.

Ag product manager for Intelligent Agricultural Solutions of Fargo, N.D., Volesky described how his company has developed an acoustics-based monitor that uses sound rather than optical or infrared sensors to detect blockages in seed manifolds. If one occurs, the seeder’s operator receives a visual and audible warning via WiFi, on an iPad.

Volesky thinks Agri-Trade’s Technology Pavilion is a good idea.

“A lot of other shows do that too. It’s a way to get people who are interested in this kind of stuff in the same area.”

Keller agreed.

“If someone is coming in looking at some new technology, they come here and they can find it all, instead of trying to find it scattered throughout the show.”

Younger producers tend to drive the adoption of innovative technology, noted Carpenter.

“They’re not as scared of the new technology as a lot of the older generations, because they grew up using it.”

And they often convince their parents to change, added Culp.

“A lot of the older farmers still like the old ways, but their sons and daughters are starting to look into robotics and go the high-tech route.”

Volesky pointed out that many of those veteran farmers still have considerable sway when it comes to adopting new advances.

“It’s still the older guys who are writing the cheques a lot of the time, so they have to buy into it as well.”

Volesky added that it’s important suppliers show that there is value in their new products.

“You can’t just have something that looks cool; you have to be able to place a dollar value on it and it be something that makes their life easier.”

Agri-Trade started on Wednesday and continues through to Saturday at Westerner Park. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

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