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UMaine Researchers Assisting Farmers With Precision Technology

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In Orono, Maine, advancements in “precision technology” offer farmers high-tech tools to enhance their understanding of land and animals, leading to improved practices. Glenda Pereira, an assistant extension professor and dairy specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, is spearheading a project with Maine dairy farmers.

This initiative involves electronic ear tags that track cow movements to optimize their care. The project not only leverages new technology but also fosters interpersonal connections among UMaine researchers, alumni, and the dairy farming community.

Having joined UMaine about two years ago, Pereira brings her experience from Minnesota, where she worked with numerous organic dairy farms, finding Maine’s dairy systems both familiar and uniquely diverse.

Glenda Pereira emphasizes Maine’s potential for diversification in agriculture, offering various opportunities beyond milk production.

Besides selling beef and farm-made products to consumers, agritourism holds significant potential. Pereira recognizes the state’s clientele and consumerism, supporting local farms in exploring these opportunities.

Before joining UMaine, Pereira conducted research on precision technology in dairy farms, particularly focusing on its applicability in organic and low-input conventional farms.

Unlike some other farming innovations, precision technology aligns well with organic certifications, making it a valuable tool for farms without access to certain conventional practices, like reproductive technologies. Pereira sees this as a great opportunity to study how such technologies work in this space.

After joining UMaine, Glenda Pereira received an invitation from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC) to propose a technical assistance project involving five farmers. Intrigued by Pereira’s previous research, the organization wanted to expand its work in Maine.

  Integration with MyJohnDeere Ops Center

Inspired by a presentation on precision technology by Rick Grant at the Maine Dairy Seminar, Pereira came up with the idea of using ear tag data to optimize the “cow time budget.”

This involves observing how cows spend their days in terms of rest, rumination, and milk production. Five dairy farmers from across Maine joined the research project, which commenced in February 2023.

Pereira credits the strong support and network provided by UMaine’s retired Extension dairy specialists, including Rick Kersbergen, Gary Anderson, and David Marcinkowski, as crucial assets in launching the program. Their established connections with the Maine dairy industry paved the way for her successful collaboration with dairy farmers.

Once Pereira assembled her cohort of farmers, she provided them with training on using the CowManager technology and collecting data from the ear tags for her research. The tags can monitor cow activities, such as chewing cud or moving around the barn, as well as track their temperatures.

While the project progresses, Pereira acknowledges that there are variations in how the technology works on different farms. Factors like internet connectivity and radio frequency issues near certain locations, such as the airport, need to be addressed and better understood.

Among the farmers recruited for the research is Heather Miller, an alumna of UMaine’s animal sciences program. Having discovered her passion for working with cows during a class where she learned to milk them, Miller is now the herdswoman at R.E. Hemond Farm, Inc., in Minot.

  Partnership with Planet

Heather Miller, the herdswoman at R.E. Hemond Farm, Inc., in Minot, has a strong connection to UMaine, having spent five years there and milking at Witter Farm for nine semesters.

Miller speaks highly of the new precision technology implemented on her farm and appreciates the opportunity to work with Glenda Pereira and contribute to the research program that helped shape her career path.

Miller praises Pereira’s personable and easy-going nature, especially when it comes to working with cows. She acknowledges Pereira’s genuine love for cows and her dedication to assisting the farmers in their endeavors.

Glenda Pereira and her graduate student Ana Jimenez actively engage in the project, traveling across the state to assist the cohort of dairy farmers. Jimenez is inspired by Pereira’s ability to connect genuinely with all the farmers and care about their needs. The two spend hours driving to various farms, and Jimenez appreciates Pereira’s passion for her job, making their journeys enjoyable.

Originally from Lima, Peru, Jimenez seized the opportunity to study in the United States after a colleague shared a job posting at UMaine. She began her research on feed stock nutrition with Juan Romero, an associate professor of animal nutrition, before joining Pereira’s research. Besides assisting with research, Jimenez contributes to designing graphics and other communication materials for the project.

  Precision agriculture API

Ana Jimenez had such a positive experience working with Pereira and Romero that she will continue her involvement in their research next year. Pereira envisions the project offering opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved, particularly through the Animal and Veterinary Science capstone program in the fall.

Although the project is scheduled to run until February 2024, significant insights have already been gained from the gathered data. For instance, behavioral data revealed that establishing a consistent feeding schedule leads to improved cow habits, resulting in better milk production and udder health.

While the data is valuable, Pereira emphasizes that the most meaningful aspect of the project is the peer-to-peer connections fostered among dairy farmers.

By facilitating interactions and knowledge exchange among farmers, the project proves to be successful in providing practical insights that can be implemented on individual farms. Farmers learn from one another’s experiences, leading to improved management practices that resonate with their specific situations and schedules.

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