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AgriCulture Live Podcast Transcript - Episode 4

AgriCulture Live Episode 4 with guest Ciarán Murphy from DeLaval

"The Role of AI in the Dairy Industry and What it Means for the Future of Farming"

00:00:04 Rebekah

Hello and welcome to today's AgriCulture Live. My name's Rebekah Shields. I'm from Agricultural Recruitment Specialists and here today joining me is Ciarán Murphy from DeLaval. And we're going to be talking about the role of AI in the dairy sector. If you've got any questions on this or any comments, please pop them in the chat and we will of course come to them at the end. So, we're going to start with Ciarán. So Ciarán, thanks for being here. Would you introduce yourself?

00:00:35 Ciarán

Thank you for having me, Rebekah.

00:00:36 Rebekah

Pleasure, tell us where you work, you know, what your company does?

00:00:41 Ciarán

I work for a company called DeLaval. My role within DeLaval, is the sales territory manager for Delaval UK and Ireland. So, what that function is, is basically the day-to-day running of the local organisation. So, DeLaval is a global company who is working in over 100 countries in the world and my responsibility is looking after UK and Ireland.

00:01:07 Rebekah


00:01:08 Ciarán

Yeah, so as a company ourselves, we're working within the dairy industry. We have two real streams. We have the capital goods business, side to our business and then the aftermarket and service with it. So, the capital goods is everything from a conventional milking system. So, your herringbone parlours to rotary parlours and robotics as well. And then within our aftermarket and service business, the consumables and all to go along with it, we have a farm supply range and we also have liners and tubes and we have a dealership network throughout the UK and Ireland who offer service directly to dairy farmers for the upkeep of their machinery equipment. And so, yeah, that's us in a nutshell really.

00:01:57 Rebekah

Fantastic. Well, you know, I'm sure a few people will have heard of DeLaval. You know, they've got a great, big name and brand in the industry. But what is it that you would say, makes you guys stand out from your competitors?

00:02:10 Ciarán

It's a good question. There's a couple of things I think that makes us really different from our competitors and makes us stand out. For me and something that I'm really proud of with the company and working with the company is the longevity of DeLaval. So, the company celebrated 140 years of business last year and it actually coincided with us being 100 years in the UK last year. So, from that perspective, we are a company who's committed to the dairy industry and you can see that from the amount of years we've actually been in dairy and through that time as well, what innovations and that innovation is very much part of DeLaval and it's always moving forward, which is what I think makes the company great. Like if you look at what we've done in the past, we're the first company bringing milking parlours, we were first company with rotaries. We have innovations -one of the first things with robotics and right up to what we're doing with our digital streams now. So that's, I think, that would be one of the big things is the longevity company while balancing new innovations. Quality of products as well. We generally - it's good product we make, it lasts end of time, so it delivers for our customers and that's a lot of the feedback we get from our customers is the quality and what they get from the products we make. And I think it's also the support. You can't have longevity that we've had as a company without having a solid support structure in place. And we have a very solid dealership network in UK and in Ireland and globally, but I can only speak within UK and Ireland. We have a very solid dealership network, the majority of businesses have been dealing with DeLaval for quite a long time and they have a remarkable relationship with their customer base and because it is very reliant with downtime - dairy farmers do not want downtime with their equipment. They want reliability just there and the product can be the best product in the world but if you don't have the support system in place, behind it, that's key to the success going forward.

00:04:42 Rebekah

OK, and so you spoke about innovation there and innovation is obviously so important for any companies, you know, you've only got to look at the likes of your Woolworths and things like that. When people stand still, businesses go, don't they? Which brings us nicely onto the subject matter today, which is obviously the role of artificial intelligence within dairy farming. So, there's people here who have no idea Ciarán what it is. So, can you give us an idea, in layman's terms, what artificial intelligence actually is?

00:05:16 Ciarán

Yeah, so it is one of them ones, when you when you mention artificial intelligence to people and it is - there is a little bit of a spook there. It gets a lot in the media from artificial intelligence and in different industries and businesses and that's something that is coming rapidly across all industries really. But in a nutshell, what AI is, it is a system that takes the data that you have and data that you've collected and it gives you - it interpretates that data, it gives you, it learns from that data and it is able to deliver more knowledge than ever before in our terms. So, there's many different forms of artificial Intelligence.

00:06:03 Rebekah

It's huge, isn't it?

00:06:05 Ciarán

Yeah, it is. You can see that on anything you've got - phones now have artificial intelligence when it comes to actually taking pictures and actually finding from the pictures. You've got Chat GPT out there. You've got many, many. You've got chatbots on any website. How many websites you go on you see you have your chatbot. That's all AI - so there's many different forms. So actually, to say under in one breath what artificial intelligence is, it's quite difficult. But I think a lot of companies are going towards it because the benefits that artificial intelligence can give you and for what's coming with what the possibilities we can do within the dairy industry - it’s endless of the possibilities that's out there in the future and the benefits that it can bring.

00:06:54 Rebekah

So, tell us, what can AI be used for within the dairy sector?

00:07:01 Ciarán

It is again - it is one of them things that's endless what it can be, but I can talk about what's being developed right now and then kind of what the future basis it is. So, at first, the first thing that's vital for AI is to have a lot of data, a lot of big data to drive the analysis that AI can bring. So, what I can talk from and then within DeLaval and how we have done that in DeLaval is we have our, we have hundreds of, we have thousands of farms globally that are working with different systems whether it be robotics, rotaries, parlours and then all them systems - are collecting information. So, they've got sensors on it - whether it's looking at reproduction or looking as milk levels, how quickly milk's been let down. And any amount of sensors on these products, they're collecting information and brought back to the herd management systems that are there and then being fed back to the clouds where they're harvesting this data. What AI allows you to do - is looking at this data, rather than if you want to learn lessons from that data. The alternative to AI is someone sits down in a room, you've got a team of people in the room. We're looking at all these different formats of data has been sent to them and they have to try to figure it out, which is a mammoth task. It's impossible. It's just not financially viable to be able to do something like that. Where AI gives us the possibilities that you can develop algorithms that can look into that data that can, that can identify patterns in that data and give you more accuracy and more information than ever before. So, like for something like a cow that is showing / is developing mastitis, what AI can do is - it can look at, look at the system. It can take hundreds of thousands of milkings that have happened previously. It can identify milking cows that had problems with mastitis before. It can see what was that cow displaying as it was developing mastitis? And then it can learn from that, so in the future it can actually predict that earlier than ever before. So that in itself, is massive and it has the potential to go a lot further as well with it. So, it's constantly learning – that’s the great thing about it as well, you send a product out and you're using it and it's working alongside with the AI. It will be accurate day one, but it will be a lot more accurate Day 30, it'll be a lot more day accurate day 60, it'll be a lot more accurate a year later because it's constantly learning and making it more pinpoint accuracy.

00:09:48 Rebekah

It's got the data to go with it.

00:09:53 Ciarán

Exactly. So, it's yeah, it's endless possibilities of what we can actually do with AI with within the industry.

00:10:02 Rebekah

Fantastic. So how can people implement AI into the dairy sector?

00:10:09 Ciarán

Yeah, so it's not a massive step to implement AI into the dairy sector. It's not something that that you can do it there. It also brings a new mindset and a new way of thinking when it comes to it. Because I see that even within our own organisation, you know, if we're used to launching a product say it's a new milking cluster - you have a physical milking cluster that you actually you go to a customer say - how do you like the milking cluster? And it's something, it's something tangible, it's something you can sell in that regard - where AI is not, it's not, it's not something tangible, it's a digital service, it's a cloud-based service. It's not something you can see. So, the only physical hardware that you will see with AI is you get a little black box that will be delivered to your farm. And basically, all that box is doing is taking the information and feeding up into the sky - so the cloud-based services then can interpret the data. So again, talking for our own customers and what our customers can do for DeLaval Plus and how we will launch DeLaval Plus or how we'll be working with our customers. If you've got a DeLaval parlour, you've got a DeLaval robots, you’ve got a Delaval Rotary and this is actually connected to our herd management systems. Well, you’re AI ready, you’re DeLaval Plus ready and there are some components that you might need to do to upgrade and stuff to get to the level of standard that needs to be to go on, but it's not a massive step forward. Say a customer who's bothered about VMS last year, they want to put the DeLaval Plus on their system and you sign up to our subscription service DeLaval Plus - the little black box gets delivered to your farm. Your local technician will come out to the farm, install the black box and then you will get access through your DelPro Herd Management system and to online - to DeLaval Plus which is starting to deliver that information to you straight away. And the beauty of it – it works side by side what data you need. So, AI is as good as the information you feed it. So again, if it's rubbish in, rubbish out. If you have good solid data being fed to the AI, then you'll get good solid information back. So, what we do with our system as well, is that people will decide to invest in new areas which will collect, which has more and more sensors so you can tag these sensors onto the ai system. So, it could be where you start up with something basic and start. You’re just looking at milking performance and what the robot is telling you – that’s already existing on it. But then you might decide, right, I want to do a little bit more reproduction performance. So, you might buy a buy a system looking at reproduction. That then gives you a whole new access into even more, that you're getting from it. It is, as I said, to get started - if you're an existing customer at DeLaval, to get started it's, it's not a massive step and then you can add more on, in time with it.

00:13:22 Rebekah

So obviously, if we look at AI on the whole in the press, you know, there's so much scaremongering, isn't there? We're going to be taken over. The world's going to be taken over by, you know AI and we're going to become non-existent and everything else. But do you tend to find, because obviously farming can be a little bit behind other industries in terms of the progress, do you come up with much resistance?

00:13:48 Ciarán

Not necessarily. It's not something that's out there and I do think, yeah, we can say at times farming has runs a little bit behind other industries. But I think sometimes we sell ourselves short on that, in that regard because I know a lot of it speaking to people in other industries and you explain what we're doing in the dairy industry and what technologies out there - they're shocked because we are ahead in some regards. But resistance - it's like anything and it's like anything to it - it's a new way of working in this new way and moving forward with it. So, you can work without AI. There's nothing stopping you working without AI, but you can get more benefits from it. It still does need (very much) that human element. All AI is doing to you in this system, is presenting information to you to help you make more informed decisions. It's not eliminating you from the equation. It's not eliminating good herd management from the situation, but it's giving you more information to make more informed decisions. So, it's far from taking over at this stage. I don't think we have to worry too much about your new robot being delivered farm and suddenly taking over next week! We're still a little bit away from that. But it is. Yeah. Again, it's one of them things. You don't want to work with our AI - you don't have to. Disengage. But the people who want to move forward will and the other element of that is - like what we have seen from our customer base that is DeLaval Plus is obviously, it's a global launch within DeLaval and throughout 2024 we will be launching the in the UK and in Ireland and a stepped process, but there is a lot of customers out there who are demanding it right now. Our office gets called every single day wondering is it available? When can we have it? So, you do have a lot of people who can drive new innovation and constantly come looking for new innovation going forward. So, there's a lot of people that are there with it and generally what we see is once in, the early adopters take it and work with us, it generally moves, moves on to the process from there so.

00:16:12 Rebekah

Fantastic. So, what do you think it means for the future? You know, in agriculture or dairy, adopting these AI systems - what is the real impact would you say Ciarán?

00:16:25 Ciarán

I genuinely believe that it's an extremely exciting time to be involved in the industry because I think AI products and AI that's coming, with what we can implement in the industry, it's an absolute game changer. It is probably one of the biggest innovations in recent history, within dairy. It's not a dairy industry innovation, but adapting it into the dairy industry will be massive because as you know there's a lot of focus on efficiencies and there's a lot of focus on environmental impact. There's a lot of focus and AI can help massively with that. It can help massively into the future of how we, how we run our farms, how we can measure what we do and how we can say exactly what our outputs are and how we're doing it. And AI has a massive role to play in that because efficiencies are key going forward - to be able to measure what you do going forward is massive and to be able to actually use that data to make improvements on your farm is going to have a very big impact. So, it's going to be, it will be a complete game changer in the Industry.

00:17:40 Rebekah

I mean, I can't remember anything being this big since the Internet, really. Can you?

00:17:45 Ciarán

No - it's really, it's moving quickly and fast. It is very exciting. It's hard to get your head around. It is. The product development in it, and again I'm not involved in product development within DeLaval, but like an AI product develops so quickly and it's not a product there. It’s not a product - I'm calling it a product. It's a service. It develops so quickly. An algorithm is created, it goes in and then it's working. It's up and running this product. It really speeds up the level of innovation of how we do things. And that is, I think one of the big things that AI brings - is that efficiency but also the development of efficiencies and all that network.

00:18:36 Rebekah

So, it's about farming smarter really, isn't it?

00:18:40 Ciarán

100% it is.

00:18:42 Rebekah

So, you mentioned some of the benefits, you know efficiencies etcetera. What are other benefits that can come from using AI?

00:18:50 Ciarán

It's not only efficiencies. I think, what we see a link to is and what we have, the terminology we use locally as we talk about, you know, superior customer performance. So, what is superior customer performance? Well, it depends on the customer really – it does depend on the customers. We’ve got some customer out there who want to reduce disease risk, which you can help from that side. You’ve got some customers out there who wants to focus on reproduction performance. You’ve got some customers out there that purely want to be focused on milking performance. I think a lot of times, when people think about - they're purely going to milking performance and getting more milk but that's not everyone’s focus. That's not what everyone wants to do and that's not what everyone wants from that regard. So, I think I will look at the different areas and the benefits that it brings. So, it's not just efficiencies that that it will be bring. If you want to push on performance to new levels, it will be it, it has massive possibilities, because again, you're measuring your inputs, you're measuring your outputs, you're measuring the process that you're going to do and having them efficiencies that you're getting. You're getting the information to you faster than ever before. Your cows are becoming more individual than they have ever been before, particularly in bigger setups. The big setups - where you've got hundreds of cows sitting there and it is really making them - that individual - to be able to do more with. So, you're getting closer to them, to the cows and then the information that's there is giving you more information to making more informed decisions, to increase your production levels. So realistically, what benefits are there - depends on the goal you have. AI has the possibility to help with them. With the benefits. I think when I talk about what DeLaval can do for the dairy industry, it doesn't just stop. It's going to be a whole farm wide thing so I know, I know companies within the tractor industry, there's AI coming in with that. DeLaval have done partnerships with John Deere in terms of looking at the farm as a whole, as a bigger model - I'm looking at that. So, it's going to have a lot of benefits in many different ways going forward.

00:21:09 Rebekah

Definitely. I mean I was having a look at it myself. You know, you've got the streamlining, you've got saving time and being able to automate those repetitive tasks, the long-term cost reduction, efficiency, productivity, a lot of that you've mentioned. But are there any drawbacks to it?

00:21:29 Ciarán

It's very difficult to put the finger on a drawback to it and that is, I suppose, the one side that that is there and to be mindful to still not to become overly reliant on it. It will give you good information but as I said, you still have to make that informed decision yourself and you still have to move forward and I think you need to get the help and support and guidance to do that. So what we're focusing on in DeLaval is that when you have Delaval Plus - assistance is there. We're also doing an awful lot of investment in our advisory services to help customers with the product and help with the information there because information is brilliant, but it can be very overwhelming and again, what information is actually relevant that you want to take? What do you want to use? And move in that in that way. So, I think if you get too obsessed with all the information that's in there, you'll get lost into actually seeing what direction you need to need to go in. And you need your advisory services there - that can say - right, you're being shown this, this is what it means and here are the possibilities you can do with these things and go that way with it. So, it is again, if you go over aligned and you get obsessed too much on all the information that is there without getting the help and support there, to do something with it, can be troublesome enough.

00:22:59 Rebekah

And what about the unemployment factor and taking people's jobs away? That's another big one.

00:23:05 Ciarán

Well, I know you're working the recruitment industry and I don’t think it’s taking people's jobs away at the moment - if we haven't got people for the jobs at the moment that's the first problem. It is very, very hard to find people and I can tell you within our dealership network, it's very hard to find engineers, technicians, engineers. It's extremely difficult to have. It's not a job that for everyone, but it has massive benefits for the right people. So, you have to find the right people who actually, you know, you get the right people to love it. You get the wrong person into that role - that wants a different thing - it can be difficult. So, at the moment again, what it is delivering right now is it, is it reducing, will it reduce jobs? No. It's definitely not going to reduce jobs in the line it is.

00:24:04 Rebekah

And you can also look at it the other way Ciarán, can't you? There'll be more technology-focused jobs being created for as we use more of these systems. You know, they reckon now that the kids in school will be doing jobs that haven't even been created yet, you know that?

00:24:22 Ciarán

That is the whole other, that's the other side of it, which is massively beneficial, is that it is creating a whole new area within the business. So, like this innovation that we've come up with and the innovation of ours and the development of AI. It's not like within DeLaval, that we had a lot of AI experts or experts in this industry just sitting at the side waiting to come in, that there wasn't an expertise that existed within the company. So, we had to go out and recruit a team of people to be working this side. So, it's brought a whole new wing to DeLaval, a new side of the company within DeLaval.

00:25:03 Rebekah

And Ciarán, you know it's no secret that we work with you guys and we've done quite well working together. But you know, there is this element of there aren't enough engineers, there aren't enough technicians and sometimes people are closed off - that they've got to have the specific experience, tell the people listening and watching, what you guys did.

00:25:30 Ciarán

Yeah. So, we've run our net really of what we're trying to capture within DeLaval in terms of employment-wise - so there's a couple of couple of factors we looked at and what we knew locally in terms of our employment. First thing, when it comes to our job descriptions, which we start at first, it used to say on our job descriptions - you must have 10 year’s experience, must come from the farming industry, must have this, must have that , must have the other. Them people don't exist anymore, that's just the reality of it. It is, the talent pool is getting smaller and smaller with them requirements in there and it's very difficult to get. We looked at that for certain roles that we've had - first time we went and we get very few responses back and the candidates for the roles weren't suitable for them roles that were coming forward. So, we've some very good examples where we've looked outside the industry and we’ve filled roles from without outside the industry and it's turned out to be really successful. So again, we can talk about engineers we found. In the end, on the engineer side of things, where we talk to people who don't necessarily have the daily experience for coming on board, but there's a few very specific roles which we've done it for which has had massive benefits for us for. So, for example I think it was probably five years ago now. We got a Dealer Development Manager on board and sadly he passed away about three years ago from illness. But in that time he was with us, he came from the food industry and when he came in he was used to dealing with supermarkets and food suppliers and bits and pieces. So, he had this whole wealth of knowledge. He has you've been working with 30 years experience in that side of the business. He didn't know masses, about a massive amount about farming, but we could teach him that element. We couldn't teach him the element that he was bringing to us. He could teach us a lot and we've got massive benefits from that. So, I think that's one really good example of where you're taking someone from outside the industry, you bring them into the industry and how they can bring this whole new element to talent. And I think that diversity is key in that. It is diversity, is very big in our recruitment so and how we do recruitment and in everything we do.

00:28:09 Rebekah

It’s so important to look at some of these transferable skills because we just don't have the numbers that we need in the industry, do we? You know, part of the reason that we're doing this, in terms of letting people think that agriculture is a potential career choice for them, because we're not taught about it in schools. Unless you're from a farming background, you really wouldn't know enough.

00:28:31 Ciarán

Yeah, exactly. And that's again, there's other elements. We've recruited a sales coach lately and we sat down with the sales coach and again he's not from immediately from a farming background and his family had a farm, his uncle had farm, but now he was very removed from the farm, but we weren't hiring him about his knowledge in the dairy industry. Again, we have plenty of knowledge of the dairy industry in-house but he knew how to teach people how to sell and to do it and structure a process and put processes in place. It was a very specific skill set we needed where previously we would have looked at that role and we would have looked at that candidate and said, yeah, you're brilliant like on paper, that's really, really good and it's going to add benefits - but you don't have knowledge of the dairy industry. So, you know this is not to work out. Again, it's another example where we've broadened our mindset and our way of thinking and it has brought massive benefits to us.

00:29:31 Rebekah

It’s worked well for you hasn’t it? So that's great. So, another question I had for you - is AI the future of sustainable farming would you say?

00:29:44 Ciarán

Yeah. When you look at what we need to do and targets we need to do, from the sustainable farming point of view. I don't think we can do it without AI and without processes like AI. One of the big things to see and again from a global perspective on the markets that I'm dealing with and looking at - there's difference - you look at sustainable agriculture and you look at pressure coming on in different markets and I know, I know with, (particularly at the moment), look at the Irish dairy industry at the moment - is under a lot of pressure at the minute in terms of sustainability. Looking at likes of derogation and looking at the likes of even the national herd sizes - come under an Irish scope. There's many things like that, they're in place. If you look, you also look at the Netherlands, which we work very closely with here in the UK and Ireland, they're at the same thing and the reduction of cow numbers. So, it's we’ve changed the way we work because there is more and more legislation going to come in and coming in, that's going to prevent us being able to do things the way we've always done these things. And to do this and to be more sustainable in the future, there's a couple of things you have to do. And one of the key things is measurements. And I firmly believe you can't, we can't, you can't improve anything if you if you can't measure it, if you want the improvements you must measure. And collecting data through the sensors allows us to measure the inputs and allows us to measure the outputs that are coming in there. And what AI will do, is allow us to make decisions faster. We can get closer to the decisions we need to make and that will allow us to go further in the future. So, it is key to that going forward because again if you can't measure it -you might be in inefficiencies which is causing impacts, that we that we're not unaware of, which doesn't help the process but if it's measured then we can help with sustainability going forward.

00:31:43 Rebekah

It definitely makes sense. So, I think that's a load of good information there that people can take away from us. You know, you don't want to get too deep because none of us are major AI specialists but we know that there are some great benefits and drawbacks to it. But yes, thank you for giving us your time today, Ciarán. We really appreciate it. And thank you everyone for watching and listening. If you've got an interesting topic in agriculture that you would like to talk about, please get in touch with me at Agricultural Recruitment Specialists And I just want to thank everyone for joining us. Thanks Ciarán - again for your wonderful depth of knowledge and your time. And goodbye from us.

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