Sep 18, 2014
Home| Tools| Events| Blogs| Discussions| Sign UpLogin

August 2014 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Robotic Rotary Parlor is True Capital for Labor Trade

Aug 25, 2014

These parlors will have to be priced to cash-flow, and or they simply won’t sell.

As you head south on curving State Hwy. 27 from Sparta to Cashton in western Wisconsin, you can’t help but be struck by the beauty of the landscape left untouched by glaciers 10,000 years ago. The deep green of fourth-crop alfalfa, tasseled corn and lush, canopied soybeans on bottom land are set against hardwood-covered ridges for 15 glorious, winding miles.

Interspersed in this late summer bounty are dairy farms of all stripes: Conventional tie stall barns, freestall barns, organic grazing dairies—and deeper into the coulees, Amish hillside bank barns, goat dairies and maybe even a sheep dairy or two. This corner of Wisconsin is perhaps the most diverse dairy area in the nation. And come March 2015, the area will be home to the largest, most automated milking parlor in the world.

GEA pic of rotary
The DairyProQ parlor from GEA, the first of its type in North America, has a robotic arm at each stall, which will disinfect and prep teats, attach units, milk, post dip and sanitize the units after each milking.

Last week, Nick Mlsna and his family had the official groundbreaking for their new, 72-stall, fully robotic rotary milking parlor. The DairyProQ parlor from GEA, the first of its type in North America, will have a robotic arm at each stall, which will disinfect and prep teats, attach units, milk, post dip and sanitize the units after each milking.

The Mlsnas currently milk 900 cows, and will go to 2,000 when the new parlor and cross-ventilated freestall facility is completed next year. The Mlsna’s currently employ 21 employees, milking 3X with a three-person crew working each eight-hour shift. The Mlsna’s hope to retain all 21 employees after the expansion, but will need only one person per shift in the robotic parlor to monitor cow flow, unit attachments and milk out.

This is true capital for labor replacement. Milking labor savings will have to pay for the new technology for it to become widely adapted. With milking labor now costing upwards of $13 to $15 to even $18 per hour, those saving should be substantial. If three fewer milkers are needed per hour in a 72-stall rotary and labor and benefits are $15/hour, the simple math says savings could approach $400,000 per year.

Milking should also be more consistent with far less procedural drift that often occurs with humans working long, eight- to 10-hour shifts, says Matt Daley, CEO of GEA. That should result in better milk let-down, faster milk-outs and possibly a pound or two more milk.

But it’s unlikely the rotaries will be able to rely on a 15% jump in milk production that the box robots on smaller dairies often see. On those smaller dairies, cows are usually coming from 2X milking to being milked 3X. In these larger parlor herds, most are already being milked 3X.

Partial budgets done by the University of Minnesota show that labor saving alone aren’t enough to cash flow the box robots. That’s because they usually only replace one person or maybe two, and those folks are still employed on the farm doing other things. So to cash-flow, the robots must harvest more milk per cow. Plus, milk price plays a huge role. The robots typically are profitable at $20 milk, but budgets bleed deep red if prices drop to $15.

GEA officials weren’t willing to say what the rotary robotics will cost. That’s somewhat understandable, and yet surprising, given this is the first-ever North American installation and the eyes of the continent will be on this facility. All they’d share is the rotary robots will be substantially less than the boxed units.

European experience with smaller, 40- to 60-stall robot rotaries shows they milk effectively and efficiently. Now, dairy farmers here will want to know if they profitably cash flow. Many will drive south down Hwy. 27 over the next few years for the answer. They won’t be doing it for the scenery.

Dairy’s Biogas Roadmap to Where?

Aug 11, 2014

The goals are laudable, but the reality on the ground is more sobering.

On August 1, the White House released its Biogas Opportunities Roadmap designed to promote biogas production on dairy farms that also incorporates mountains of institutional and consumer food waste that now is landfilled.

The dream is to tie country and city together to generate energy, reduce methane emissions, lessen the burden on landfills, save costs and create revenue along the way.

The "Roadmap" has the support of both the National Milk Producers Federation and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The goals are laudable: To help reduce the dairy industry’s contribution of greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

Last year, the Innovation Center released a study that suggests what’s good for the environment also could be good for farmer’s pocket books. The study suggests there is $2.9 billion in on-farm revenue potential for anaerobic digesters that co-digest cow manure and food waste.

But the reality on the ground is more sobering. Even Tom Gallagher, CEO of The Innovation Center and Dairy Management, Inc., acknowledges "the landscape is littered with [biogas] failures." Over the past 20 years, farmers have been sold equipment that was not easy, if not impossible, to sustainably operate. Then there were the failed business arrangements and the often temporary, subsidized utility "green" programs that soon disappeared along with economic viability.

"Like other new technologies, there were a lot of failures," Gallagher says. But he also points to Europe where biogas production is no longer viewed as experimental or risky. "There are 7,000 digesters in Germany," he says.

The White House initiative is meant to jump start all that here. According to the Aug. 1 press release, the Biogas Roadmap will:

• Foster investment in biogas systems: USDA will lead efforts to better understand and track the performance of anaerobic digesters, seek opportunities to broaden financing options, and review Federal procurement guidelines.

  • Strengthen markets for biogas systems and system products: Example-- dairy farms of all sizes could enhance their revenues through nitrogen and phosphorus recovery.
  • Improve communication and coordination: USDA will establish a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap Working Group, with a goal to identify and prioritize policies and technology opportunities by August 2015.
  • Promote biogas use through existing agency programs: Leveraging existing programs will provide a way to enhance the use of biogas systems in the U.S., and leveraging research funding, and strengthening programs that support the use of biogas for clean energy, transportation fuel, and other bio-based products.

Gallaher adds that having the White House behind this initiative will put methane digestion on equal footing with other green technology such as wind and solar. That support is critical with the investor community. With the Federal government now behind biogas, private investors are more likely to invest in biogas research, development and infrastructure as they have with wind and solar, he says.

Let’s hope Gallagher is right. Most dairy farmers I talk with are highly skeptical that methane digestion will ever be a viable option. There simply has been too many equipment and energy agreement failures for them to think otherwise.

For this to work, USDA, the Department of Energy or somebody will have to demonstrate biogas is a viable, long term solution. I’m willing to go anywhere, any time to report on biogas success stories. Too often, though, these promising leads turn into failure and disappointment.

Log In or Sign Up to comment


Receive the latest news, information and commentary customized for you. Sign up to receive Dairy Today's eUpdate today!

The Home Page of Agriculture
© 2014 Farm Journal, Inc. All Rights Reserved|Web site design and development by|Site Map|Privacy Policy|Terms & Conditions