Is Dairy Data the New ‘Oil’?
October 13, 2021
Dairy producers are increasingly aware of the value of the data on the farm. Just as oil flows from wells and milk from cows, it seems that data has the potential to inform or overwhelm farmers with more information than they can comprehend.
Dairy producers have had a series of platforms to choose from, including:
Dairy Comp is the original of the species and the largest and first of its type in the dairy herd management software space. Dairy Comp is the first to truly offer producers the ability to collect and manage data on milk and cow health at an individual level. While it is sometimes described as a ‘legacy system’, suggesting it hasn’t been updated from its original format, this is not a fair characterization as they have invested heavily in creating a new cloud-based system called VAS-Pulse. Industry estimates are that more than 60% of the U.S. herd are currently using Dairy Comp, which in turn has driven the desire of other new technologies. For example, wearables, robotic milkers and smart artificial cameras to find ways to integrate their data with this software.
Amelicor by my estimates (in cow numbers) is the second largest herd management software in the U.S. market and is widely used in herds west of the Mississippi. They have four products for herd management (DHI-Plus), feed management (EZFeed), commodity tracking and dairy records management.
BoviSync is an award-winning platform, and its growth is fueled by its use of unique cloud-based software and innovations, such as its ability to aggregate and analyze data for groups of cows, allowing management of cows at pen level.
Vyla is a new platform backed by Nestle, Land O’Lakes and Lely and supported by other industry players. Offering something like a "Facebook for farmers" makes it easy to integrate information from any system in a single open app, including feed management, parlor software and combine milk prices and weather.
Mydairydashboard.com owned by Dairy.com has a similar concept, bringing together farm, market, and weather data under one roof.
The MILC Group has continued to add more and more data streams under the umbrella of their ONE platform, to manage feeding and sensor alerts for milking facilities.
If farms don’t capitalize on the increasing availability of information flows from sensors and other novel technologies on the dairy, data platforms may become a bottleneck preventing livestock from achieving the promise and profitability of smart precision farming. Dairy farmers, especially the largest producers, recognize that data-driven farming could provide multiple benefits, such as optimizing inventory, precise feed formulation and reducing feed costs, enabling better milk production through precision nutrition, responding better to consumer demands.
In short, what the milk supply chain needs is for all moving parts to work symbiotically through shared data or data interoperability as it is known in the technology world. Data interoperability allows different systems to communicate their data with each other on a shared interface. It allows systems to not only create, exchange and consume data, but create shared expectations and understanding of the data presented.
In healthcare, we have seen how patients’ medical records may be shared by many doctors, labs, and insurers within a network. Patients benefit from the convenience of not having to provide lab results and recount medical history when visiting a new doctor within the network. More generally, data interoperability prevents one company from monopolizing the data, incentivizes the players involved to improve their products given the competitive nature of the shared platform, and results in a better result for the end-user. For the food supply chain, this means that instead of multi-generation long relationships, external publications and word-of-mouth communication, data from raw material analysis to animal performance will be tracked and communicated throughout the entire process making the supply chain integrated, not segregated.
Ultimately, data interoperability and digital transformation benefit the end consumers. Users of Facebook and Google demand increased transparency and accountability for big tech companies. Likewise, consumers are demanding transparency and control over their food and the ingredients involved in the making of it. Consumers (‘prosumers’) are becoming more conscious about their diets and personal ethical and sustainability goals, so dairy producers need to find ways to respond to those preferences and deliver better products while remaining an integral element of the food supply chain.
Questions about the future of dairy data and who owns it? Leading food companies such as Nestle, Danone, Dairy Farmers of America, Parmalat potentially might invest or take stakes in leading data players. But how soon before Amazon, Google, Apple, IBM or Microsoft decide they want to be part of the dairy data ‘land grab’?
How do farmers benefit from this? Consumers accept sharing their emails, their location and travel data with big data companies in return for free and valuable services. How can dairy producers gain from their willingness to share data?
Is dairy data the new oil? The choice of data platform is yours, but just like landowners sitting on oil reserves, we may not know its real value until we allow others in the supply chain to ‘drill’ into it.