Oct. 8 2019 11:00 AM

Technology helps us manage labor, but we still need human involvement.

I am an engineer. I believe in the power of technology and automation. Agriculture is certainly reaping the benefits of recent inventions and innovations. But, we still need the people managing these operations to be onsite every day.

Growing up on a dairy farm, milking was like a leash. It had to happen every day, multiple times a day. There’s no rescheduling or way to pull double duty the next day instead. If you were able to have others cover your milking shift to attend an event, be prepared for someone to not show up or for some issue to come up for you to have to stay on the farm. Now, when I visit friends’ farms with robotic milkers, I am amazed. They can leave the farm! Granted, they still show up every day for their chores that cannot be outsourced. Cows must be doctored, calves must be fed, and equipment breaks down. But, the flexibility the technology has brought to farming is incredible!

Similar to dairy farming, dairy manufacturing has significantly advanced with the help of automation and equipment. There are now ways to stack pallets and fill boxes without the manual labor it required in the past. Though, we still need people in the facilities to manage the processes, troubleshoot the equipment, and perform the many functions that cannot be done remotely.

I have a LinkedIn account, and the conversations that seem to dominate the newsfeed pertain to “working from my boat in the Mediterranean Sea” and the “10-hour work week.” I feel these topics are like almond beverages compared to real milk — almond beverages have significant buzz and marketing, but are in reality a very small piece of the milk sales pie! Similarly, these work scenarios are dreamy at best, and altogether false or misleading at worst. Most jobs require you to show up, and especially those in dairy.

Dairy is demanding. Live animals and perishable products require human presence. We have had great technological advancements to reduce the labor hours required, but they still need us. We still need farmers and processors for the future. Our roles will continue to evolve alongside automation, and I am excited to see the continued efficiencies and progress we all can make. Technology is our teammate.

Erin Massey

Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."