He/she wakes up in the morning, does exercise, sips tea, chats with spouse, reads newspaper, checks the status of the dairy farm and milking status on laptop/mobile, gets ready, finishes breakfast and is prepared to go to the dairy farm at 10 am while confirming to the kids that they will go out for an evening shopping.

This will be the farmer of a modern dairy farm somewhere in India’s future…

Milk is an essential commodity and an important source of nutrition for us. The dairy industry has been one of the most silent but one of the most important food categories globally. India ranks first in milk production, accounting for close to one fifth of the world output, but per animal productivity is low.

The 140 million tonnes milk today comes from over 70 million households, which is about 50 per cent of total number of households in India. That makes milk production highly fragmented and poses difficulties for organised dairy sector to procure quality milk and process it to meet the growing demand of consumers. This contributes to the disarray at the farmer’s end.

Dairy processors have invested in creating huge rural infrastructure to nurture and engage dairy farmers for milk collection. With changing farmer behaviour, processors have lately felt pressure for getting sustained loyalty of these farmers, having been forced to increase collection span from earlier 30 km to more than 300 km, as well as revise procurement prices several times during the year.

Lacking Skills

Many of the dairy farmers still lack the skills to manage their enterprises, have no access to support services like production and marketing advice or have little or no capital to reinvest and are often handicapped by small herd sizes and low milk yields.

In the last few years we have seen emergence of younger generation of dairy farmers. They are faced with labour who are not interested to work as milkers or perform other tedious activities in dairy farming and animal management. Labour today has better options to earn a living. Many parents are unwilling to marry their daughters in a dairy farmer’s home because of their unwillingness to work with animals and undergo physical hardship. Many farmers are tempted to sell their land and move on to alternative business. It is expected that these trends would increase in the coming years.

The current socio economic changes have resulted in arrival of various new segments of dairy farmers with 3-5 cattle, 20-50 cattle, 50-200 cattle and big investors with more than 200 cattle. This change in segmentation will continue for the coming few years as existing dairy farmers will either grow to new segments or quit dairy farming.

It is important to observe that the marginal farmer segment being the largest in number, it could take anywhere between 15-20 years to evolve into farm modernisation. They are becoming aware and are now knowledgeable about the issues and need for modernisation of their farms. The initiatives taken by National Dairy Plan and many of the private processors, educational institutions and Government of India are focusing on development of these small farmers. Many of them, due to their reducing family size or temptation to sell land at an attractive price, may end up quitting dairy farming. However those who continue to be in this business will eventually grow and adopt mechanisation while expanding to a herd size of 10-20 milking animals.

Milking Centres

The dairy farming segment may also see efforts and innovation by many processors to integrate small marginal farmers and develop community milking centres or community dairy farms. Such a concept has in the past been successfully operated by the Kolar Milk Union in Karnataka (South India). This concept may evolve into a cow hostel wherein the bovine are provided by the farmer and management practices are taken care of by an entrepreneur or a collective farmer society. These models have been tried globally and have been successful. These are various steps for the evolution of commercial dairy farming where a farmer will adopt the modern way of dairy farming.

Dairy farming mechanisation is a subject which is quite vast as many different solutions are available for different needs. The basic mechanisation starts with a simple milking machine with a herd size of 10 animals. The mechanisation can move on to next level with 2 or 4 milking machines as herd size increases up to 50. The management of buckets becomes difficult after 50-75 animals and hence a basic pipeline system facilitates the farmer to work efficiently. The viability for such system can easily be achieved by saving on labour cost, improved productivity and better animal health within a period of 1-2 years.

A farm size of 100 plus animals requires mechanisation with automation and various other cow comfort solutions like swinging cow brush, cow mats, cubicle system or a high quality bedding system and health management solutions. The viability for a 100-200 cow project could be achieved in 2-4 years for an existing farmer, whereas for a new entrepreneur it may take 3-5 years as he/she may need to learn dairy farming as a process while focusing on managing supply chain.

Feeding is one of the most essential aspects where we will see development in future. The best run farms in the world produce 1.6 -1.8 kg of milk for every kg of feed whereas in India it’s less than a kg. The quality of feed is extremely important than the quantity produced.

Feed Efficiency

Today our milk production is largely based on marginal farmers with agricultural waste. In future we will see commercial agriculture for feeding milking animals. This is one area which has not yet gained attention and will need participation from all stakeholders and also a solution which would need to be sustainable.

One of the key factors here is land availability. A lot of work will be needed to achieve required feed efficiency by working on the type of fodder seed, knowledge of agri farmer, soil for this feed and by increasing the cultivation of this feed. The agri farmers today have many alternatives and will need to be convinced or motivated to work with milch animal feed. The fight in future will be between the feed produced for milch animals, human beings and other livestock sectors.

The changing segmentation will bring in new challenges and opportunities. This commercial dairy farming approach will require a mindset change to be supported from all stakeholders in spreading knowledge and building competence for this change. We will need professionals who can manage these farms as a profitable business as well as technological interventions which will facilitate improved performance, high efficiency and productivity.

Breeding Practices

Accelerating productivity of the Indian cattle through genetic improvement is also a key factor. We will see global dairy breeding practices and better breeds. We have already noticed the import of high quality bulls and the intervention by National Dairy Plan (NDP). Many of the private processors and relevant stakeholders will change the current profile of cattle in coming years resulting into a milk yield comparable with global standards of 6,000-9,000 litres per lactation cycle in many progressive farms.

The future dairy farmer will be more knowledgeable about commercial dairy farming, will use mechanisation and automation for improved efficiency and profitability, focus on high quality feed, silage, have high productive cattle, the average farm size will be 50 to 100 cattle or more, and will remain in dairy farming because he finds this business attractive compared to other options. The overall cattle population in the country will reduce but productivity per cattle will improve thus making each farmer profitable and environment friendly.

The dairy farmer of future will be a Cow Boy or a Girl who will on their own terms manage the business with smart processes and technological interventions and provide us with sustainable dairy farming.