Not just ‘mom and pop with a pitchfork’: Agriculture becoming a hotbed of technology
PULASKI — At the Kegley farm, dairy cows wear necklaces.
They aren’t fashion accessories, Lisa Kegley explained. The necklaces are transponders, which track a cow’s physical location, how often she’s milked and her overall health. It’s just one element of a robotic dairy operation, which Kegley Farms of Pulaski LLC implemented in October 2013.
For those unfamiliar with agriculture, it may seem an old-fashioned industry. But the truth is technology plays an increasingly large role in farming, as producers use everything from robots to drones to increase efficiency.
Even as farmers in Southwest Virginia deploy available technologies, others are being developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, where an initiative launched this year known as the SmartFarm Innovation Network seeks to build farms of the future.
Often, embracing technology is essential to a farm’s survival. Before making the leap into robotics, the Kegley family milked twice a day, at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., with equipment that had to be hooked up to the cow by hand. But finding someone to do that work was difficult.
“No one wanted to milk a cow,” Kegley said.
So, to thrust the farm started by Kegley’s father-in-law into the future, the family decided to invest in a robotic milking system from Lely, a company based in the Netherlands.
Kegley declined to say how much it cost. But Eric Paulson, executive secretary of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, said he’s seen most robotic milking systems priced at about $150,000 to $250,000 per unit, with each milking between 40 and 70 cows.
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