The use of technology in dairy farming in the United States is more advanced than in New Zealand, says a Taranaki farmer.
Omata farmer and former Fonterra shareholders' councillor Nick Barrett was a member of a tour group of farmers, bankers, and businessmen who recently visited dairy farms in Wisconsin and the World Dairy Expo in Michigan.
"New Zealand has fallen behind a bit in the use of technology," he said. "Over there, there is a phone app for everything - tractor work, mating programmes, feed rations. They're instantly available and able to be shared with staff."
He wants farming co-operatives LIC and DairyNZ to develop more integrated farm phone apps.
"Here, apps are being developed by farmers to fix a problem they have, but our own co-ops should be doing more in this field."
Barrett said at $12,000/hectare, US dairy land was cheap so New Zealand farmers should focus on improving productivity on the land they already own. "We can't expect to keep paying more for our land and still be competitive with other countries.
"The US is not in competition with us in the export market yet because farmers there are not making any money. But they do have the potential to increase production."
That was because they could easily increase and decrease their herd sizes - a NZ$2500 cow could fetch NZ$2000 at the works.
Eight hundred US dairy farms, representing 1.5 per cent of the country's dairy farms, produced 35-40 per cent of its milk. But 85 per cent of US milk production was consumed domestically.
Although the average US payout of NZ$8.45 kilogram milksolids (kg/MS)was 33 per cent higher than Fonterra's average of NZ$6.36 in the five years to June 2014, their operating expenses of NZ$7-$9 kg/MS were higher than the New Zealand figure of $4.90.
Figures from the US Agricultural Management Survey showed US farmers with fewer than 500 cows lost $2.50 kg/MS every year in the past five years, while those with more than 1000 cows were making 20c kg/MS. The average profit for New Zealand dairy farmers in the past three years was $2.41 kg/MS.
Small farmers were keeping their farms because they faced a 40 per cent capital gains tax.
"I don't think New Zealand can farm the US way, but nor can they farm the New Zealand way."
One 200-cow farm the group visited had two robotic milkers and was operated by a couple, their two adult sons, and four casual labour units. US farmers relied heavily on machinery and had one labour unit to 50 cows, compared with the New Zealand figure of 1:150.
Although cowsheds were highly automated, milking was inefficient. Milkers were in no hurry to put cups on the cows, often taking two to three minutes compared to about 30 seconds in New Zealand.
"Here, we want to them in and get them out as quickly as we can," he said.
- Taranaki Daily News