Robot Farm: How farms are planting the seeds of technological pr - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Robot Farm: How farms are planting the seeds of technological progress


(WQOW) -- These days, farmers are struggling with higher costs, lower profits, and a shortage of farm labor. In response, they’re uprooting tradition, using robots and even developing new technology to put food on your table.

 "It’s not our father’s dairy farm because we’ve gone completely robotic," Deb Haynes said. "The robots they just walk right into them. The robots do all the milking. They do the cleaning of the udder."

Haynes married into this business 30 years ago. She’s milked a lot of cows, but now she doesn’t have to. The robots ”milking” every drop of efficiency. 

"The average milk in our herd is now 92.3 pounds of milk per cow per day, up from from 84 pounds per cow per day," Haynes said.

The robots collect and keep data on every one of the 214 animals at the farm. Physical activity, productivity, even the health of the cow and quality of the milk are checked.

With milk prices plummeting, farmers have to make up for it in volume. This system helps keep the Haynes farm, and many others in the heartland, competitive. So says Scott Wolff with Purdue University.

"Efficiency is the key to technology," Wolff said. "It’s allowing the farmers to really get into the nitty gritty of their farming practices."

For the nitty gritty, we visited another farm. There, the combine harvesters and tractors drive themselves. 

“The modern combine harvester has more lines of code than the space shuttle did when it first launched back in 1981," Chad Lantz said.

Lantz works on John Deer equipment for dozens of farmers. In fact, he can see them all from his computer. Most of the work he used to do is now handled remotely over a cellular connection without ever stepping foot in the fields.

"I can diagnose so many more things from my desk before i send a tech into the field," Lantz said. "When i started in the 1980’s, these machines were 80-percent mechanical and 20 percent electronic. Now they’re 80-percent electronic and 20-percent mechanical."

All those electronics are collecting data on the harvest and keeping tabs on engine performance. That means mechanics need a new set of skills. An associate's degree or more. Even coding skills are a must.

Leave it to the farm to plant the seeds of technological progress. Efficiency and profit are the two reasons the farm is practically running itself. Back on the Haynes farm, Debra is excited about a benefit no computer or robot could ever measure.

“It gives us a little bit of flexibility where we can actually have Christmas morning now with our family instead of having to go milk and then have Christmas," Haynes said. "I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings."

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