Want Sustainable Farming? Look to High-Tech Farms

April 2, 2019

Originally appeared in Forbes

By Jenny Splitter

Beef seems to have had a rough year. A growing body of research suggests that consumers can help mitigate the impacts of climate change by eating less meat from ruminant animals like beef and lamb. Despite the raging debate about beef’s impacts, the data shows red meat isn’t going the way of the congealed salad anytime soon. Plenty of consumers in the west and growing numbers of people in the developing world want to eat beef, so it’s critical to make beef production as sustainable as possible.

It may surprise consumers to learn that sustainable and high-tech farming can go hand in hand, as more growers and producers rely on data-gathering technology like sensors and robotic milking machines.

Barbara Jones is the director of the Southwest Regional Dairy Center at Tarleton University in Stephenville, Texas. She studies cow comfort in dairy farms and technology in dairy systems. “Precision technology is a really rapidly growing [area of technology] we can use to prevent disease and make really timely and informed on-farm decisions.”

While it may seem like technology can create a disconnect between farmer and animal, Jones says often the opposite is true. “It’s not really our fault but humans are just terrible at detecting disease within cattle” she explains, because cows are a prey animal who tend to hide the symptoms of their disease.

Brad Heins, who is an animal sciences researcher at University of Minnesota, says that technology can often improve animal welfare on farms. “Sometimes you’ll notice that the computer will indicate something may be wrong before you see clinical signs in a cow or calf [but] you still need a person to actually go treat the cow...it can take a long time, especially if you have a larger farm, to look through all of your cows,” so this helps ensure that a sick animal gets treatment faster.