Digital technology in milk production

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Both in Brazil and in other countries of the world, milk and its derivatives are part of the list of foods most consumed by the population. According to FAO (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), Brazil is among the five largest milk producers in the world and has the second largest dairy herd in the world — about 70 million animals, including cows, heifers, calves and Bulls.

Milk is among the top six most important products in Brazilian agriculture and one of the chains that employs Brazilians the most. Currently, about 20 million people work in the milk production chain, involved from the primary sector (which includes agricultural production proper and the operation of farms) to the delivery, processing of milk into dairy products, transportation and marketing to the final consumer.

The objective of this text is to describe the technologies already available in order to improve the production of quality milk and think about other technological solutions that can help in the production of milk.

How important is technology in dairy farms?

There are already, even in Brazil, dairy farms that use the latest technological innovations in the field — such as fully automated milking and consequent generation of large amounts of online data.

With the updated data it is possible, for example, to use artificial intelligence algorithms to extract information — such as the best type of feeding or even the best milk collection intervals.

However, not all milk producers are able to take advantage of the technologies currently available for different stages of the process such as milking, product refrigeration among others.

For example, manual milking generates a milk with a greater amount of microorganisms and impurities, no matter how hygienic the treatment is. The fact is that there is a trend of technification in milk production, using less and less human labor in contact with the animal and implementing technologies to help increase product quality and animal welfare.

Classification of milk types

In order to understand the importance of technology in order to obtain better production and also better quality milk, I think it is important to have a brief understanding of the types of cow’s milk available on the market.

  • UHT milk (Ultra high Temperature)

These milks, also called long life milk, refer to the type of milk that goes through an overheating process in order to eliminate its bacterial load. They are usually packed in small boxes.

  • Pasteurised milks

Pasteurized cow milks are those known to be marketed in refrigerators or “in natura”. Pasteurized milks undergo a thermal shock process in order to minimize the concentration of bacteria and have a shorter life time than UHT milks.

Pasteurized milks can be subdivided into:

  • Milk Type A – has lower concentration of microorganisms per ml (maximum 500/ml). The origin of Type A milk requires that milking be done only from one herd and there can be no manual contact at any stage of production.
  • Type B milk – may have a higher volume of microorganisms per ml (limit of 40000 / ml) and can be harvested from different herds. Milking can be mechanical or manual, always respecting the limit of the allowed bacterial volume. It can wait for up to 48 hours in a refrigerated environment before being pasteurized.
  • Milk Type C – may have a larger volume of microorganisms per ml (limit of 100000 / ml). Normally, it is still made with manual milking, and the difference with Type B is that it does not go through a cooling process after collection. After milking, it must already be immediately transported to the dairy where it will be pasteurized.

The higher the quality of milk, the better its remuneration and demand tends to be. Taking into account the criteria mentioned above, Type A milk is usually the most sought after by the residential consumer public due to its better nutritional value and lower amount of undesirable microorganisms.

Another point where there is the valorization of better quality milk refers to milk delivered to dairies, aiming at the manufacture of derivatives. There are some initiatives in the dairy sector that aim to remunerate milk production in relation to product quality— considering criteria such as fat content, protein content, somatic cell count (hygiene) and bacterial count.

This means that there is a demand for high quality milk — Type A, for example-both by the residential consumer and by other sectors, such as dairy, which use milk as a raw material. To meet this demand, producers need to find ways to raise the quality of their production.

In this scenario, the introduction of digital technologies in the milk production chain is an essential part of this process of increasing the quality of milk produced in Brazil.

Use of digital technology in dairy production

The use of technology in milk production is already widely applied in more advanced dairy farms. In a short time, farmers who do not adopt a more technified production tend to disappear from the market, since the consumer himself has been looking for higher quality product

So, below, we list some of the available technologies and future possibilities that can add value to milk production.

  • Robots

By the very definition of Type A milk, we see that there is a need that there is no type of manual contact in production. Robots or milking machines are probably the most well-known robot application in the dairy industry.

The use of robots allows the milking of many cows simultaneously. At the same time, mechanized milking makes it easy to maintain the cleanliness and sanitization of the environment. In this way, milking machines help to ensure better quality of the extracted milk, without manual contact, reducing the contamination of the extracted milk.

Another benefit is that these robots can act 24 hours a day. In some cases, it is possible to perform milking on demand (the animal looks for the milkers when it feels necessary) or at the time the animal wants to feed.

In addition, automating the milk collection process allows the dairy farm environment to be calmer — with fewer people in the space—, which favors the tranquility and productivity of the animals.

  • Sensors/IoT (Internet of things)

IoT , the Internet of Things, is a network composed of objects that can collect and share information with each other. These objects can be anything from simple lamps to Whole machines. The idea is that they can communicate with each other by sharing data and sending signals.

There are already on the market wearable monitors that can be hung on the ear, neck, legs or even the tail of cows. This device allows the individual and herd monitoring (health and nutritional status of the animals) instantly, allowing the necessary measures to be taken proactively.

Thus, sensors can evaluate fat, protein and the presence of antibiotics (it is not allowed to have traces of antibiotics in milk in natura) in the extracted milk. From this information, producers can act to improve the health of animals in an individualized way.

  • Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) consists of computational mechanisms that rely on human behavior to solve problems. In other words, technology makes the computer ” think” like a person to perform tasks. We humans are able to analyze data, find patterns or trends in it, make more accurate analyzes and, from them, use the conclusions to make decisions. In a way, AI follows that same principle.

In the case of dairy farms, we can use AI on cameras to identify objects. These cameras are distributed throughout the barn and are able to detect the moment when the feed becomes insufficient or unavailable. From this information, the cameras, connected to the farm system, activate mechanisms that release feed to livestock.

Eventually, these cameras can also be used to track the animals. In this case, they eliminate the need for tracking devices such as collars and tags, serving as an alert to producers regarding unexpected behaviors of animals (such as escapes, animal welfare problems, among others).

  • Machine learning

Machine Learning (ML) is part of artificial intelligence. With it, you can train computers to determine patterns and trends across data to provide tools for decision making. For example, in terms of images, it is possible to generate mechanisms in which the algorithm can detect with a degree of accuracy when there is the presence of some disease (necessary the data scientist, but also someone who can identify by the image if the disease exists or not).

Based on this knowledge of machine learning, the company EIO Diagnostics works on a project that combines machine learning with the use of multi-spectral images.

Animals with mastitis — a very dangerous disease and harmful to the animal and the dairy industry-have swelling and heat patterns on their udder. With the company’s project, it is possible to analyze images of livestock and identify suspected cases of mastitis, anticipating the detection and diagnosis and treatment of mastitis.

Technologies like these, allow a daily analysis and an alert of the problem well in advance, avoiding problems in production and also avoiding the spread of the disease.

  • Virtual reality

Virtual reality technology is the simulation of a real environment with the use of electronic equipment. Through these equipment, the user can make an immersion in the simulation and, through sensors, interact with the environment.

In Canada, there is already a dairy cooperative that uses virtual reality to train employees in dairy farm environments. Employees can learn to identify potential problems or simulate problem situations on a farm without causing real damage to production. That is, it would be almost as if it were a game(game), where employees could interact and know what attitudes should be taken. For example, what would be the employee’s procedure if the breast pump presents a problem, or even simulate how it should interact with the animal in case of resistance to periodic treatment, such as the application of some medicine.

  • Blockchain

The technological term Blockchain describes a chain of blocks. Each of these blocks contains information about an event. The blocks are connected in chronological order, forming a chain. To change the information in one of the blocks, it is necessary to change all the previous blocks. In fact, Blockchain is often compared to a ledger, in which data and its history become virtually immutable. This feature makes Blockchain an interesting technology for maintaining information security.

These days, where consumers are increasingly interested in tracking the origin of the food they consume, Blockchain allows you to connect every detail of the production chain until it reaches the consumer. Tracking the origin of the milk, the way it was produced, the medicines used in production, the hygiene measures performed in the extraction of the product and many other information can be made available to end customers through a Blockchain that documents all stages of production.

Conclusion

The digital transformation of the field is underway and the dairy sector already presents many of the technological solutions available to be used also in the field.

More modern dairy farms can already be conducted with little human intervention at the different stages of the process. Digital technology allows to bring up-to-date and instant information about the animals and the state of the dairy farm, as well as allowing to take predictive actions in search of better productivity and quality.

Technological changes are happening rapidly in the field and are heading for even greater acceleration in the coming years. Capturing individual cow data and allowing producers direct access not only to current data but to historical data from their herd will allow producers to move further and further in the development of dairy production. Therefore, producers who know how to use technologies intelligently in their production will benefit the most.

Venturus works with the disruptive technologies of technology while keeping up with advances in the field in order to increasingly align with field technologies. The innovations used in dairy farms serve as inspiration to act increasingly with greater intensity in the digital revolution of the field.

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