Cornell University Seeks Collaboration on Dairy Management Project

Member Perspective

Cornell University Seeks Collaboration on Dairy Management Project

Cornell University has big ambitions for its latest investment in dairy management research. The awarding of a four-year, $4.3 million USDA grant to Cornell was announced this past spring, earmarked for the creation of a “Farm of the Future” to demonstrate and apply new and emerging technology tools and practices.

This multifaceted project is designed to accelerate the adoption of best practices and new technologies among dairy producers from production practices and feed management to establishing a roadmap to identifying a carbon footprint. Interest in the work is high from a variety of partners, including dairy organizations, producers, NGOs, and food manufacturers.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and there are a wide range of challenges that such a project must meet to create meaningful results. This includes the capability of collecting and moving a variety of specific data points from disparate equipment and systems. As it turns out, no agriculture market segment is immune to the challenges of cross-platform connectivity and compatibility, including the movement of data across stakeholders in dairy management.

Cornell University recently joined AgGateway to participate in ongoing discussions about the broader challenges in animal agriculture, whether existing tools might help solve some of the problems, and to direct discussion as meet ups evolve into targeted working groups. Kristan Reed, Assistant Professor of Dairy Cattle Nutrition at Cornell, will be attending the AgGateway Annual Conference to immerse herself in the organization’s work and learn more about the organization. She is a member of the team working on the Farm of the Future and has been experiencing many of the data challenges in her work on establishing a method for quantifying the climate footprint of dairy producers.

“I would like to learn more about the ADAPT toolkit and how to use it,” says Reed, “because even though I am dairy production focused I also think about the whole farm system, and I have collaborators that are really interested in using it that are not able to attend the conference. I want to learn more about AgGateway’s workflow, and Ben Craker has spent a lot of time to help me understand how AgGateway moves initiatives through the working group process to end products that improve the integration of farm production tools and data streams.”

Reed has recognized that her struggles in dairy management systems are nothing new in agriculture, and a key reason for joining AgGateway. “While I spend most of my time on the dairy cattle production process, and I see some of the challenges we experience are common to all types of ag.”

For example, there are different software products employed to decide what diet will be used to meet the dairy cattle nutrient needs, and on top of that there are multiple underlying nutrient requirement models that have their own variables and definitions of variables.

Also, nutrient requirement models have all developed different ways of translating the chemical composition needed to achieve the nutrient requirement. This complexity is compounded by different definitions that different labs have developed to assess the chemical composition of feeds that is reported out to the feed manufacturer.

Finally, there is a whole set of software connected to the feed mixing process that tells the machinery what ingredients to add in what proportions. Delivering the right amount of feed to a pen on a dairy operation is also impacted by the number of animals that are in that pen, information that comes from yet another set of software systems.

Carbon Footprint, and Beyond

Establishing a methodology for tracking the environmental footprint of a dairy operation over time and under different management conditions will be a key outcome, but there are many more goals for Cornell’s Farm of the Future. Feed is one of the main operating costs on the dairy farm, so getting the data components right and compatible is key to several projects.

“We are trying to improve the feed quality monitoring method – how often do you need to sample feed to know what the composition is, and do we have enough data to be certain we are meeting the requirement,” explains Reed. “We also have been trying to find more social science collaborators to understand how we can develop connections between diet formulation, feed delivery, and tracking of animals that better integrate into farm management practices. Dairy farmers all have their own methods, from automated to almost completely manual. We want to figure out methods of management that make the process less manual and allow producers to integrate data more easily so they can gain more useful information from that data.”