Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Robot Day: Cows and Grapes

The NY Times has an article on milking robots. 
I'd read about robotic milkers before, perhaps even posted on them, but this is the first report describing units with no human intervention, meaning the cows can determine when they want to be milked!  So the march of technology has the effect of increasing the "agency" of cows, making for more contented cows, I suppose.  (Was it Elsie, the Carnation cow, which keyed their ad campaigns in the 1950's?   NO, my memory is faulty--Elsie was the Borden's cow.  And, coincidentally, one of the dairymen in the article is named Borden, a seventh-generation farmer.)  Will the crunchy food movement celebrate this advance in animal liberation? 

Seriously, this and similar advances elsewhere in farming pose the problem for the farmer: give up, get out, grow up.  You need a bigger operation to make the best use of machines (although apparently California operations are too big) or cope with new regulations, etc.   The other problem is the infrastructure.  If you're depending on a machine to milk your cows, you can't afford power outages (hand-milking even 12 cows when the power goes off is not fun).  And you can't afford malfunctions--I assume the vendors have some support system to provide loaner units with a very short response time, like 1-3 hours.

Elsewhere, Technology Review has a post on agricultural drones. I wonder when FSA will start using them?

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