It's Dairy Month in South Dakota, wherein we celebrate an industry in which the pro-corporate policies of Bill Janklow, M. Michael Rounds, and Dennis Daugaard have concentrated ownership in just 370 hands. (Once upon a time, South Dakota had 20,000 independent dairy producers.)
We'll see a month of Ag United outreach activities like Lunch on the Farm at the Royalwood Dairy in Brandon tomorrow, intended to sustain our fantasies of that family farming still looks like our Fisher-Price playsets, with smiling calves prancing playfully in green pastures. Not a word will be spoken about the exploitation of immigrant labor or the reliance on state-supported Korean and Chinese investors buying their green cards to give massive corporate agriculture operations an unfair advantage in the South Dakota marketplace.
Robots are invading farms all over America, including a dairy farm near Ethan. But the dairy farmers couldn't be happier.
A machine, called an astronaut, is just like a robot. Gary and Amy Blaze use four of them to milk their 200 head of dairy cows three times a day. The robots use laser scanning technology to line up the milkers on the cows' utters.
The Blaze's decided to buy the robot milkers mainly because hired help wasn't reliable.
"You tell a robot to do something and it does it exactly what you told it to do every single time," Gary said.
"We would get calls at 4:30 a.m. or so saying they couldn't be here today or do you really need us today," Amy said.
Each cow wears a tag with a computer chip, allowing the robot to identify each one by a number. A computer in the robot registers all kinds of information on each cow, like body temperature, weight and milk production [Don Jorgensen, "Robots Invade Dairy Farm," KELOLand.com, 2013.06.10].
One A4 Astronaut costs $210,000. It can milk 60 cows a day. I invite my farm-experienced readers to calculate when that investment reaches break-even point over hiring people to handle your teats. We get rid of hassles with employee turnover and Social Security and USCIS... at least until the robots wake up and start arguing for workplace rights as sentient beings.
Bonus Free Association: I can't help thinking of that scene in The Matrix where Morpheus shows Neo the fields where machines harvest humans as batteries. (Oops—there goes another hour of my life to YouTube.)10 comments