Automatic milking (AM) was introduced to Danish dairy farming in the mid nineties. More than 10% of the farms have taken up this new technology, stimulated by a massive structural development in Danish dairy farming. Farms have been growing larger, and becoming more specialized and mechanized, and often they struggled to find skilful co-workers. However, development was driven by technocratic thinking, leaving society and science with the task to fix the problems occurring afterwards. This structural development also triggered increasing rejection of grazing. My study assessed AM for impacts on economic, ecological and social sustainability on organic farms. Impacts on economic returns, environmental impacts, animal welfare, and milk quality were addressed. A participatory research approach involving a wide variety of stakeholders was used to focus on which issues were relevant to analyse and which indicators should be quantified in detail. Quantitative comparisons of relevant indicators, did not find farms using AM to be less sustainable than those without AM, although some differences were evident. AM farms practiced less grazing, cow welfare was threatened and management clearly had a very different focus.
About the speaker:
Dr Frank Oudshoorn was educated as an agricultural engineer at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. He worked for 13 years in the extension services of Danish Agriculture before becoming the scientific manager of the organic research station Rugballegaard, in Horsens Denmark, from 1998 to 2003. Since 2003 he has been working as a scientist and interim group leader at the Department of Biosystems Engineering at Aarhus University. His main research is in organic agriculture, focussed on emerging innovative technology and sustainability assessments where the three Ps (People, Planet and Profit) should be evaluated.