Victor Cabrera leads a team of scientists trying to help farmers manage huge amounts of real-time data
By Tim Morrissey, Public News Service
For The Post Publications
NORRISTOWN PA – Milk sales account for only a small portion of more than $20 million in agricultural products sold annually from Montgomery County’s roughly 500 farms, according to the most recently available federal statistics. To improve those numbers, local dairy producers continue to turn to technology for an edge in increasing sales and operational efficiency.
Their latest advantage may arrive in an experimental new app being developed by cheeseheads in Wisconsin. Software created in the Department of Dairy Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to collate data collected from farmers in real time to help them make better decisions.
The app, called “Virtual Dairy Farm Brain,” is still being tested by a team that includes dairy scientists, agricultural economists and computer scientists. Researchers believe the methodology they’re developing will apply to any farm. They hope to use it in on-farm tests before the end of the year.
- Want to buy your milk and other Montgomery County farm products at their freshest? Download the county Planning Commission’s full-color publication, “Direct From the Farm: A Guide to Buying Local in Montco,” here.
Dairy farms generate massive amounts of data every day, too much for any one farmer to analyze alone, says team leader and university Assistant Professor Victor Cabrera. They get daily reports on feed efficiency: pounds of milk produced per pound of feed consumed, written notes on tanker weight when the milk is transported, reports texted from milk buyers, and many other data sources.
Farmers also rely on modern systems that each separately generate tons of information. They’re “inundated with information that many times is not being used effectively,” Cabrera explains. “They are not able to grasp it all in their head.”
Too often, he fears, that leads to poorly informed decision-making on, for example, something like the size of a prospective new silo. “So many times they do these decisions … on a specific thing, trusting and hoping that it’s not going to affect the rest. But indeed it does affect all the rest of the systems,” Cabrera says.
“So we asked, what can we do to help in this situation? How can we take advantage of this large amount of information that’s very valuable, that they are not taking full advantage of?” Virtual Dairy Farm Brain is the answer, the team hopes.
Cabrera indicates the final step in the app’s development will be to apply what researchers have learned to create intuitive, cloud-based decision-support tools. They would allow farmers to use real-time data from their farms to make smart management decisions.
Photo by William Graf via the University of Wisconsin