Big data the future for farming, says LIC

Brent Wollaston, LIC’s national herd testing manager, says robotics represent the future of the...
Brent Wollaston, LIC’s national herd testing manager, says robotics represent the future of the industry. The company invested $3.2million to help it process and analyse about 11million milk samples every year.PHOTO: SUPPLIED/LIC
LIC'S positive financial performance for the year will act as a catalyst to investment in technology and data platforms, the company says.

Speaking at the dairy co-operative's annual meeting on Thursday, LIC chairman and Nelson dairy farmer Murray King said LIC was in a strong position to continue to invest in technology and data platforms to fuel genetics and herd management innovations.

LIC reported net profits of $22.2million, up 139% from $9.3million the previous year.

The performance prompted a total dividend of $15.6million to its 10,300 shareholders, the largest paid out since 2013.

"The work we have completed since 2016 to shape LIC into a modern, progressive co-op has enabled this year's solid results.

"2018-19 was about embedding our new innovation-led growth strategy with an ongoing focus on the core NZ dairy industry.

"This year we will focus on driving this strategy forward by taking full advantage of data to benefit both LIC and our farmers," he said.

LIC invested $13.6million in research and development during the year, representing 5.5% of revenue, compared with an average for the primary sector of about 1%.

Mr King said the co-op also received additional funding from MPI and MBIE to boost two key projects aimed at driving improvements in the health and wellbeing of the national herd and more sustainable milk production.

"Our Resilient Dairy programme, alongside DairyNZ and MPI, will strengthen our existing R&D programme to keep our farmers and New Zealand leading the global pastoral dairy system," he said.

LIC chief executive Wayne McNee said data would unlock the next wave of productivity and sustainability improvements for farmers.

The next era of farming started with taking full advantage of data, he said.

"Dairy farmers are being tested like never before. They are looking for certainty and trusted partners to help them navigate the rapidly changing domestic and global industry, and we want to step up and help farmers meet those challenges head-on.

"Starting with the first national herd database, one of the strengths of our co-op has always been our ability to use our data to drive genetic gain, produce better milk and help farmers save time and increase their profits.

"Now, more than ever, we're using the data our co-op collectively gathers and shares to give our farmers the ability to make faster, more informed decisions on farm. In our cutting-edge genomics work, big data is allowing us to supercharge the rate of genetic gain."

Mr McNee said LIC had taken major steps forward in its digital transformation agenda, including moving one billion pieces of farm data into the cloud to open up new opportunities.

He said as the company moved from a "cow focused" to a "customer-focused" business, it would need to continue with significant investment in R&D and take advantage of emerging technologies.

"This work is shifting us from creating product around cows to building ecosystems around our customers to support them and their farms and keep New Zealand leading the global pastoral dairy system."

Mr King said the co-op's comprehensive daily testing regime and biosecurity protocols in the face of M. bovis were also important to protect the national herd.

"As the farming community in New Zealand continues to grapple with this biosecurity threat, LIC is committed to doing all we can to eliminate the risks and reassure farmers."

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