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Ken Ward, DeLaval: Aiming to Enhance Farm Worker Value Through Automation

Kazakhstan 22.05.2024
Source: DairyNews.today
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From May 26 to 30, 2024, the city of Ankara, Turkey, will host the significant event—The Dairy Olympics. Swedish company DeLaval, a leading manufacturer of dairy farm automation equipment, will participate. Ken Ward, Market Development Vice President Asia Pacific at DeLaval, will present on behalf of the company. With extensive experience and skills in the dairy industry, product development, and marketing communications, Ward has made significant contributions to the industry through his various roles at DeLaval. In an interview for Dairynews.today, we discussed the expert's presentation at the Dairy Olympics, about the challenges of the dairy industry and the role of automation in its development.
Ken Ward, DeLaval: Aiming to Enhance Farm Worker Value Through Automation

Ken Ward, could you share what your presentation at the Dairy Olympics will be about?

— I am delighted to participate in the Dairy Olympics and represent DeLaval. It's a great honor for me. In my presentation, I plan to discuss the past and present of the dairy industry in China fr om our perspective, our beliefs, and our predictions for the future. The dairy industry in China has evolved significantly, transitioning from small farms with just 1-2 cows to mega farms housing over 10,000 and more cows. This transformation represents a remarkable story of progress and success. Although China still relies on importing dairy products, the country has significantly improved its level of self-sufficiency. Most importantly, it now produces high-quality milk for its consumers. The experiences from this market are incredibly valuable for developing the dairy industry in Central Asia, from addressing food safety issues to focusing on production efficiency and sustainable development.

Could you tell us a little about your company?

— DeLaval is a well-established company; we have been on the market for over 140 years. We were part of the evolution of the dairy industry from the very first day, from the first element of mechanization. In 1917, the first mechanical milking machine was invented, and of course, before that, we had the separator. DeLaval turned the cream separator into a commercial product that revolutionized the dairy industry. Over the years, we have implemented various types of technologies, products, and systems in milking processes, particularly through equipment for milking, feeding, including milk analysis, which is a very important part of our strategy for the future. We have always been part of the evolution of the global dairy industry.

In which regions is your company represented today?

— Our company is represented all over the world. We operate in more than 56 markets worldwide. In terms of sales and marketing, we are divided into three large clusters: the EMEA regions, i.e., Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, which is wh ere my main activity is, and the Americas, i.e., Canada, the USA, Mexico, and Latin American countries. We are represented worldwide, in various agricultural systems and styles of Dairyu farming, fr om smaller family farms to mega farms.

What are the main problems in the industry today that you could highlight?

— From an agricultural perspective, one of the main challenges that farmers continually face is the lack of available and quality labor; it’s a global issue. I have been working in this industry for a long time, experiencing this persistent problem firsthand. I’ve had the fortune of being with DeLaval for 40 years, living in Europe, Sweden, the USA, and now New Zealand, focusing on market development and sales support. No matter which country you visit, regardless of its level of development, this labor issue is prevalent. Some might claim, "Hey, we have plenty of labor." However, it's crucial to be prepared to train these workers, provide them with opportunities to find satisfaction in their jobs, and give them reasons to stay in the industry. This is particularly challenging on farms, wh ere the physical nature of the work means that employees might soon find other opportunities that seem more appealing. Therefore, retaining labor in this industry is also a significant challenge.

How, in your opinion, can this problem be solved?

—  Availability of labor can be regulated with automation so that we can use fewer people on dairy farms or turn existing labor into higher value. But it depends on what stage of the life cycle or cycle of evolution of the dairy industry you are in. In many countries of the world today, we are not at the level of investment when it comes to implementing robotics and automation. Some farmers will certainly do it, but there's the core business that still needs to be developed, so we all want farmers to produce quality milk, beneficial for cows, so that cows are healthy and have the least impact on the environment and its sustainability.

Do you think that introducing new technologies in production can solve problems?

— Technologies cannot solve all problems alone. Ultimately, the effectiveness of new technologies is primarily influenced by the people who use them, including farm staff. Life is about balance, and I believe this principle applies to technology as well. While automation can simplify tasks, it also equips workers with tools that enhance the value of their contributions to farm operations. For instance, if the value of a person's work was previously assessed at 15 euros per hour, with new technologies, this could be raised to 30 euros per hour. This increase is because workers now can make more complex decisions, interact with sophisticated software, and are involved in critical tasks such as identifying cows that need treatment or determining their reproductive phases. Therefore, our goal is to provide automation that not only simplifies tasks but also amplifies the worth and impact of the farm worker.

Do innovations and new technologies affect the farms profitability?

— Yes, of course, we already see this. With the implementation of digitalization, we can monitor the overall health of the animals. Machine learning capabilities and the data now provided to farmers allow for the early detection of sick cows. For example, data indicating a cow’s illness a few days before visible symptoms appear is extremely valuable. Digitalization plays a crucial role in ensuring sustainability, from animal welfare to farmer profitability. Identifying a disease early and starting treatment even one day before symptoms appear can save money by reducing labor costs and increasing milk output for processing, among other benefits. Thus, all these factors significantly influence both production and profitability.

What innovations does your company use?

— We believe a healthy cow is a productive cow. Proper care of the herd means that cows will produce more milk over a longer period. A prime example of best practice is DeLaval’s Voluntary Milking System (VMS). The "V" in VMS stands for voluntary, indicating that the herd can milk, feed, and rest as they wish, with minimal interference. This system pays close attention to each cow by respecting and utilizing the cow’s natural habits, and maximizes the cows’ autonomy through proper management. This results in efficient milking and enhanced comfort, health, and well-being for the cows.

In addition to such innovations, the advantage of the voluntary milking system lies in its use of a range of cutting-edge technologies. These technologies ensure that the milking operation is always consistent and standardized, which in turn, promotes the health and comfort of the cows and maximizes their dairy productivity potential.

Of course, we also continue to enhance our traditional milking technologies, such as the Clover milking liners, which allows for softer and faster milking, comparable to our earlier products. We have recently introduced the FRM (Flow Responsive Milking) technology worldwide. This can be integrated into existing rotary milking systems and dynamically adjusts the vacuum and pulsation based on real-time milk flow. This tailored milking approach has shown promising results, including higher peak milk flows and shorter milking times, which positively impact udder health. Considering animal welfare is a crucial aspect of developing our technologies.

What other industry problems does your company solve?

— DeLaval supports dairy farmers in reducing their environmental impact while simultaneously improving food production, profitability, and the well-being of people and animals involved in the process. We offer solutions and services tailored to dairy livestock. Our clients—dairy farmers—face similar challenges regardless of their location. Several years ago, we categorized the challenges our clients face into four main areas: food safety, labor efficiency, animal welfare, and farm profitability. At DeLaval, we possess the know-how and solutions necessary to help dairy farmers address these challenges effectively.

How does DeLaval integrate sustainable development principles into its products and services to help clients reduce environmental impact?

— First of all, let me clarify that the concept of sustainable development extends beyond the environmental concerns. "We make sustainable food production possible" is DeLaval's vision. To realize this vision, we have established four main focal areas: environment, food safety, animal welfare, as well as social and economic aspects. Each of these priority areas aligns directly with 8 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that DeLaval can influence. Returning to environmental concerns, we concentrate on "reducing greenhouse gas emissions, responsible water usage, reducing energy consumption, and waste reduction" in our dairy operations and innovations. For instance, many years ago, DeLaval introduced a low-temperature hygiene product that enables farms to use colder water for cleaning equipment and also reduced the water discharge temperature while maintaining cleaning efficiency. Another example is our VMS and intelligent animal solutions, which allow precise management of nutrition, disease prevention, and reproduction for cows. This systematic approach helps our customers do more with less cost and do it well. You can learn more from our sustainability report.

Can you provide examples of how DeLaval's solutions have helped clients improve sustainable development methods while maintaining or increasing profitability?

— The DeLaval rotary milking system E500 is an excellent example of how technology allows customers to reduce their investment in the parlor. One 120 bail E500 capability can serve a number of cows as smaller parlors did in the past. The profitability is evident, not only in terms of building costs but also through the ability to milk more cows with less labor and fewer resources. With our large rotary setups, we can now process up to 1000 cows per hour at some of our large installations—a fantastic milestone. This technology focuses not only on effective automation implementation but also incorporates traditional milking elements. The key for us is efficient and productive milking that ensures no harm to the animals while extracting high-quality milk. Profitability is clear, not just from reduced construction costs, but also from increased milk production with lower labor costs and other resources. Additionally in products like the DeLaval VMS, we utilize truly 3D camera technology, which enables the highest equipment operating speeds and allows more cows to be milked per robot. This can result in a smaller environmental footprint and greater profitability for the owner.

What advice would you give to dairy producers who are striving to optimize their operations and improve overall efficiency and profitability?

— Improving operational activity is a systemic project. First, it must be adapted to local conditions and aligned with the actual situation on the farm. Secondly, working with a professional knowledgeable partner is essential to determine a long-term productivity improvement plan. Thirdly, it's important to maintain flexibility, regularly review the situation, and adapt promptly to cope with unpredictable changes and challenges. DeLaval has had great success in working with our customers with a clear focus on performance, helping them achieve increasing success through our InService All Inclusive (a team of service engineers) and farm advisory services. Now, we are enhancing these services with digitalization to collect data and, more importantly, use machine learning and artificial intelligence to help farmers more quickly identify sick animals.

Could you share plans for the future of your company?

— The future plans for the company are straightforward: continue to provide sustainable solutions for our client-farmers. This encompasses animal welfare, environmental care, food safety, and farm profitability, as well as implementing the right actions from the company's perspective to ensure sustainable development in our factories and in all our activities. Additionally, we are committed to advancing digitalization, aiming to offer clients tools and services that demonstrate real value. This includes providing data and advice, as well as services like preventive maintenance and high quality consumables. Finally, our third goal is to ensure that we have an innovative program that is truly focused on the precision of our tools. Such accuracy ensures that farmers can trust our tools and see tangible results.

And finally, your expectations from the Dairy Olympics?

— Honestly, attending such events provides an opportunity for me to learn more about the region and the complex challenges it faces. We are a private company, and our owners are truly passionate about sustainable food production. I think first and foremost about cooperation—specifically, the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and experiences because we all benefit from this and become stronger together. There are many opportunities for motivation and the exchange of knowledge and best practices, regardless of the country. Speaking of Central Asia, for instance, Kazakhstan is advancing in rotary and automatic milking, while other neighboring countries are also beginning to develop their agricultural sectors. It doesn't matter whether you are in a developing or developed country; there are opportunities for growth and development for everyone. That's why conferences like the Dairy Olympics are so important. They stimulate motivation, discussion, and knowledge exchange, encouraging people to share ideas and best practices to make our industry more sustainable and productive together.


The Dairy Olympics will take place from May 26th to May 30th in Ankara, Türkiye. The aim of the Dairy Olympics is to assess the prospects of the global dairy market, evaluate existing industry issues, forecast trends, establish new connections, and initiate new ambitious projects.

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