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Data-Driven Teamwork

Anna-Lisa Laca

Imagine you wanted your employees glued to their cell phones. Picture them roaming around focused on their phones like it was their job. That’s what you’ll find at Agricola Ancali, the largest robotic dairy in the world. 

Owned by the Bethia Group, Agricola Ancali is located near Los Ángeles, Chile. The farm milks 4,000 cows with 65 DeLaval VMS robots, and it also encompasses thousands of acres of corn, alfalfa, grazing land, fruits and vegetables. The farm’s CEO Pedro Heller says the key to their success is tangled up in technology and people. And Heller’s keen ability to source talent and gamify the workload is to credit for much of their success. 

That’s why when you visit the farm, which is vastly different than the average Chilean dairy, you’ll noticed employees using their phones. The team constantly monitors the robots and their pe-formance, allowing them to quickly respond to a cow needing attention. 

Heller says the transition to robots changed the farm for the better.  “The main differences are on cows and the team. The cows are less stressed, living voluntary on the system. People are more connected with the animals and their routines,” he says. “Part of the key, after nutrition, is the herd manage-ment and robots allow you to know lot of info.”

Innovative Leaders

Miguel Aparicio and Odriom Escobar are two of the farm’s key leaders. Along with Heller, they’ve structured the farm into five milk pick up center. Each center has a chief operator and two to three additional employees per shift. Those teams are responsible for managing the cows and the robots in their center. What’s more, the centers compete with each other to produce the best data possible. The goals of high milk production and cow comfort are noted in the data the robots generate. Internal BenchmarkingTim Taylor, a dairy technology entrepreneur says all farmers can gamify their businesses for their employees.  Show your workers the progress you’re making and make them part of that success, he says.

“Make it fun,” he adds. “That’s what technology allows us to do.” 

You might not have the abundance of data produced by the robots at Ancali, but Taylor says farms should share basic data such as milk quality metrics, volume sold, animal health data, etc.  At the end of the day, people are competitive and motivated by score cards, so think of the ways you can create meaningful goals and motivate your team toward positive changes on your dairy, he explains. 

“The most important benchmark is the communication,” Heller says. “Be close between teams. Know the key performance indicators and work together to work on it.

”American farmers aren’t the only ones having trouble finding a skilled labor force, in fact one of the main reasons Heller started the robotic experiment at Ancali was to alleviate a labor pinch. 

In 2003 the farm was milking 1,200 cows on one rotary parlor. By 2010 the farm had grown to 6,000 cows on four rotaries but the milk-ing crews were hard to staff and labor costs were through the roof. Heller had seen robots on smaller farms and thought the system could be scaled for a large farm. In 2014 he added the first eight robots and the rest is history (see timeline). Eventually, Ancali moved entirely to robots based on reduced labor needs and higher milk production. 

A New Workforce

While the robots reduced their labor needs by 40%, they also provided access to a new pool of employees because they are working with new and exciting technology. Today, the workforce on the dairy is professional, well-educated and tech savvy.

“As a company we started a program to teach and prepare our people,” Heller says. “They have more tools now to understand the animals, their behavior and feelings and apply changes to keep them happy and comfortable.

”Still, like any business, turnover is inevitable so the team at Ancali continuously looks to attract new talent to keep the pipeline full.


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