THE next step of an ambitious £670,000 plan to create a digital farm hub at Askham Bryan College is underway.

The ground works have begun for the plan which will see a state of the art robotic milking system installed on the college farm at York.

Supported by the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, the initiative will assist animal welfare and also improve efficiency and productivity in the college’s dairy unit.

Another key benefit is that the latest technology will enhance student learning as they will be able to access a wide range of data relating to cow health as well as production - from the lecture room, from their smart phones or within the dairy itself. It will also assist future student-led research projects.

The project is expected be completed this summer. The contract has been awarded to DeLaval, a world leader in milking equipment; the third generation VMS (Voluntary Milking System) V300, launched last July, will be the first to be installed in Yorkshire.

The college farms around 650 hectares of which 260 are at its main York campus. The college’s first robot was installed more than a decade ago, in 2004.

An important benefit of the new system is that direct comparisons will be possible looking at the milk yield and cow health of animals of the robotic unit, compared with those using the college’s existing rapid exit parlour.

The two systems have been linked so data can be captured from both and then analysed, thus informing student learning as well as the husbandry and general management of the 200-head Holstein herd.

Matt Bagley, the college’s head of farms, said: “Agriculture is now a highly technical industry where gathering information to inform decision-making is a crucial part of managing livestock efficiently and effectively.

"This new hub will be transformational for the farm and student learning, particularly as the technical innovations will enable us to monitor cow health much more effectively. Early detection of any potential health or performance issues is key to solving them quickly and effectively: this system will help us achieve this.

“Also, with the ability to compare and contrast two different milking systems, it will enable us not only to give our students a first class learning experience, but to provide valuable information to the industry and thus help decision-making by British dairy farmers.”