Conference spreads excitement about farm innovation

Leader: Dairy Australia managing director Ian Halliday with a drone at WestVic Dairy's Innovation Day in Warrnambool.
Leader: Dairy Australia managing director Ian Halliday with a drone at WestVic Dairy's Innovation Day in Warrnambool.

There was a heady mix of vision and practical advice at WestVic Dairy’s Innovation Day in Warrnambool on Wednesday.

Nuffield scholar Duncan MacDonald, of Tasmania, talks to WestVic Dairy's Innovation Day about his experiences implementing many innovations. 

Nuffield scholar Duncan MacDonald, of Tasmania, talks to WestVic Dairy's Innovation Day about his experiences implementing many innovations. 

The excitement about potential gains from innovation also came with the warning from Gardiner Foundation representative Matt Reid, of Carlisle River, that farmers had to accept that change was the norm.

“If you think you will be farming in five years time the way you are farming now, you will probably be doing something else,” Mr Reid said.

Dairy Australia’s (DA) managing director Ian Halliday said innovative research and development projects supported by DA had the potential to improve returns to dairy farmers by $15 a cow a year.

Mr Halliday said the projects involved not only improved herds and pastures but also helped farmers to be better business managers to deal with the dairy industry’s increasing milk price volatility.

He told the audience of about 100 people the projects included DairyBio that was creating improved pastures and improved herds through the latest approaches in bioscience.

DairyBio includes the world’s largest perennial ryegrass field trial in Hamilton that aims to provide 10-20 per cent improvements in ryegrass yields.

“That is a game changer,” Mr Halliday said.

Other projects that could deliver big returns to dairy farmers were DataGene, that helped farmers make better herd improvement decisions, and DairyBase, a web-based tool that enabled dairy farmers to measure and compare their farm business performance over time.

Moving from broad scale vision to individual experience, 2017 Nuffield scholar and Tasmanian dairy farmer Duncan MacDonald shared his experiences implementing many innovations on his farms.

Mr MacDonald said he had created a farm “data dashboard” on his phone after an accident involving a worker made him realise that paper-based record keeping was too onerous. He expanded the dashboard to provide numerous features such as staff time sheets.

Mr MacDonald also spoke about his use of innovative technology such as pasture measurement tools and drones.

He said converting the information from innovative technology into good decision making was a skill he had to learn. 

Other things he had learnt were that innovation worked best when it improved rather than complicated things and that calculating the return on investment was sometimes not easy. Not forgetting the impact of innovation on people was also a key to its success, Mr MacDonald said. 

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