Project Team: Dr Jim Harkin (PI), Malachy McElholm, Neville Graham / Gary Watson, Martin Mulholland, Jason Osborne and Dr. James McGreer

Organisations Involved: Ulster University, Dale Farm Ltd., CAFRE, UFU and McGreer Consulting

Background: Milk production is a major global farm-based industry which is at the core of food production in Northern Ireland, ROI and the UK. The primary fixed costs of farming are headage and farmyard facilities, while the cost of energy is the major variable expense after feed and labour with the potential to contribute to more than 20% of the cost of production, and adversely affect its carbon footprint. As global demand for fresh liquid milk and processed milk products escalates, the average headage per farm is growing dramatically (80% in N. Ireland over the past decade). The need to manage the energy usage in these larger farm units has become critical. From initial discussions with the dairy farming community, there is a growing need for a low-cost energy monitoring and reporting system which would provide the dairy farmer with real time energy usage performance against established benchmarks for each major Energy Using Activity (EUA). Furthermore, this system could be optimised to indicate potential causes of deviant energy usage and recommend possible corrective actions.

In a typical dairy farm, milk cooling consumes the highest amount of electricity, followed by milking parlours, water heating equipment, miscellaneous usage, water pumps and farm lighting arrangements. Monitoring and controlling energy costs are the important management strategies in dairy farming. Implementing these strategies becomes even more challenging with energy price fluctuations and electric equipment maintenance or replacement. In the absence of such strategies, the profits are squeezed because of increased cost of milk production per litre.

Innovations in automation, smartgrid, and communication technologies are providing efficient power management solutions to the manufacturing industry, coupled with machine learning analytics based on big data. These technologies can be adapted to dairy farms to reduce power consumption and improve processes efficiently with increased milk production. Modern dairy farm facilities are adopting smart meters, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) or automation for better energy management which facilitates actionable knowledge and better control of power consumption and distribution in the farm. However, these systems pose daunting challenges to collect, store, process and make meaningful sense out of continuous live data streams. Unfortunately, most of the existing systems focus on partial problem such as energy cost, automation or data analytics. We combine all these research areas and introduce focused Key Performance Indicators (KPI) as a measuring indicator to achieve reduced energy cost, efficient milk production lines and optimized processes.

iTEMiD framework, will establish an effective methodology in production processes while monitoring energy consumption, milk handling processes, milk temperature and timing (scheduling) in dairy farming and offer unique and real time insight and visualisation of energy consumption during farm milk production. The iTEMiD framework includes a hardware and software suite to acquire, store and process energy, milk temperature, along with equipment and production data. It utilizes hardware and software tools to achieve maximum throughput with reduced costs. The primary deliverable of this project is the development of a low cost, real-time energy monitoring system which can measure the precise energy usage across the specific processes in farm milk production, and generate the associated reduction in energy usage therein whilst ensuring milk is consistently available at the agreed creamery collection temperature.

Project: The project aligns with the key priority area of ‘Improving Sustainability/profitability’ where optimising energy use results in more efficient on-farm liquid milk production (reduced operating costs); i.e. reduced milking, handling, chilling and storage costs with reduced energy consumption at each stage. This will enable NI dairy farmers to become global leaders in the management of energy usage in “on-farm liquid milk” production and to produce the highest quality product cost competitively thereby securing international markets and guaranteeing the viability of the local dairy industry. The project can also be seen to align with the pillar of ‘Minimising environmental Impact’, whereby milk production processes, e.g. chillers, pumps, are not over used so less demand is placed on electric supply grids which are still mainly fossil fuel based. This will reduce the impact on the environment due to reduced fossil fuel CO2 emissions. In addition, energy monitoring and diagnostics enables the timely maintenance or replacement of damaged electrical equipment. This ultimately improves the efficiency of the operating environment and “Enhances Animal Welfare”, e.g. by improving environment for cows with better management of shed ventilation systems, feeders, heating and lighting and water resourcing. By ensuring consistent temperature management of milk during the farm process enables increased quality of milk.

Objectives:

The key objectives include:

  • selection of pilot sites (milk producing farms) and mapping of milk process
  • installation of energy metering units and recording of longitudinal data (over 2-month period)
  • develop software to automate the analysis of energy and production data for inefficiencies, threshold exceeding, energy cost per litre of milk.
  • develop software to automatically visual outputs from analysis, communicate alerts etc.
  • benchmarking of analysed data again existing test-cases to validate approach.
  • formal reporting on the outcome of the research to assess viability for further development and deployment.

Benefits:

  • Real time visualisation and reporting on Farm energy usage, providing information and possible interventions to reduce costs via adjusting chilling periods etc.; i.e. avoid intensechilling processes prior to milk collection.
  • The project also aligns with the AgriSearch research pillar of support of ‘Minimising environmental Impact’, whereby milk production processes, e.g. chillers, pumps, are not over used so less demand is placed on electric supply grids (supply grid are still mainly fossil fuel based). This will reduce the impact on the environment from reduced fossil fuel CO2 emissions.
  • These benefits in energy saving will materialise in reduced electricity bills and therefore less demand on the need for the generation of electricity by the supplier.
  • Evidence of impact from best practise in milk production.