Automatic Milking Systems: Keeping Smaller Dairies in the Game

March 2018 -

 

Key Points

  • Various forms of robotic milking are helping to sustain small to medium sized farms amid a consolidating industry, and offering solutions to labor challenges and efficiency gains for some larger operations.
  • The adoption of robotic elements in the milk production process will continue to grow at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually in the years ahead. However, high costs and remaining uncertainties about useful life will slow the adoption rate among the country’s producers and keep the share of the total U.S. herd milked by robots relatively small.
    Milking Robot Sales
  • Finances are typically not the primary driver of the decision to adopt robotics for smaller producers. Instead, these producers often cite less tangible benefits related to quality of life and making the farm more attractive to the next generation. n As labor challenges mount and costs rise, tradeoffs will increasingly tilt in favor of robotic milking systems. This will happen first through box-style milking systems on small and medium sized farms in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, then on larger farms in the West and Southwest.
  • Proximity to a dealership or service technician is critical, and areas with established networks of dealers have experienced broader adoption rates so far. The machines are generally very reliable, but any downtime quickly reduces profitability.

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