From milking robots to electric tankers, dairy farmers have a healthy amount of options when looking to streamline their operations and achieve better sustainability metrics.
The terms big data and artificial intelligence are increasingly used in relation to farming and agriculture as more systems designed to automate farm management arrive on the market.
Among the bold and ambitious concepts lie equally clever creations that don’t require a heap of complex hardware to work. Storyteller – a smart metering system that can help farmers fully utilize milk tanker capacity and reduce milk loads – is one such example.
Developed by Irish information and data technology solutions specialist Piper Systems, Storyteller can accurately measure the amount of liquid milk that is being pumped into a tanker in real time to reduce loading times. The system can also sense just how much space is left within a tanker and utilize that extra space available to get more milk transported in one go.
Storyteller has been trialled by US dairy cooperative Agri-Mark at one of its farms in Vermont. The system is yet to be formally launched, which is expected to happen by the end of 2022, complete with pricing information.
“Our typical accuracy performance on the system is +/- 0.25%,” Anthony Canavan, COO at Piper Systems, told DairyReporter. “Based on this study with Storyteller and other comparative studies with a Piper metering system versus traditional methods in the US, there is an improvement greater than 2.5 times in accuracy.”
Using Storyteller, Agri-Mark has been able to load milk onto trucks ‘in around half the time’ compared to a traditional system, according to Canavan. “That’s around a 30-minute time saving per load,” he added.
The technology can also ensure the full capacity of each tanker is utilized. “Our analysis shows that average tanker utilization across a fleet ranges between 92% - 95% using existing methods,” Canavan said. “The opportunity that exists with Storyteller is to access that underutilized capacity and enable the transportation of the same amount of milk with 5% to 8% fewer deliveries.”
Beyond fast and efficient loading, there are more benefits for farmers, such as that milk can be pumped into tankers while milking is in progress. In farms with more than 1,000 cattle, this could reduce the need for extensive storage facilities.
“If you can use a smart phone, you can easily use this system.”
But the name ‘Storyteller’ refers to the system’s ability to continuously monitor milk quality during the loading process to provide an overview of milk composition and microbiology. It also grants farmers access to loading temperatures and sanitation metrics such as the temperature of the water used for tank cleaning. The data is collected and uploaded to a cloud-based platform, which is accessible via easy-to-use software and available directly to farmers.
“Our cloud-based data portal gives an easily accessible, minute-by-minute overview of all critical process parameters associated with milk collection and farm cleaning-in-place (CIP) processes,” explained Canavan. “We retain all historical load data, and minute-by-minute telemetry data is retained for one year.
“Critically, any historical data is available within three clicks on our data portal, making it easy to access and rapidly reducing problem-solving times for both upstream and downstream issues,” explained Canavan.
The cost of the system would be determined on a case by case basis, with system cost set to be announced at the end of this year when the product is officially launched. But Piper Systems predicts that a typical large farm would achieve return on investment within two years. “There are multiple factors that determine ROI - including current capability, driver rates, capacity utilization, milk volume produced, distance to plant, cost of unloading at plant and CIP, and so on,” Canavan added.
How simple is it to use the software on a daily basis? Admittedly, farm staff and truck drivers need to be trained to make the most of the system’s capabilities, but the initial feedback from Agri-Mark has been that the interface is ‘both highly effective and user-friendly’. “As part of the development cycle, we focused on providing a clear and intuitive user interface for the operators,” Canavan told us.
“Storyteller takes the decision-making away from the operator and steps the operator through the process with screen prompts. As one driver said, ‘If you can use a smart phone, you can easily use this system’," he concluded.
Piper Systems has received funding support by S3FOOD to develop Storyteller. S3FOOD is a four-year €5m scheme funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program to support R&D projects and SMEs from the food processing industry, including technology and digital providers.