Making Successful Decisions on Robotic Milking Technology

Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension
Iowa State University

Extension Lead(s)
(name, position, counties served, contact information)

Leads: Larry Tranel, Dairy Field Specialist, NE/SE Iowa
            Jenn Bentley, Dairy Field Specialist, NE Iowa
            Kristen Schulte, Ag and Farm Management Specialist, NE Iowa

Your Position


POW # and Team

 ­­­­­_____100 Corn and Soybean Production and Protection
­­­­­__x___ 110 Dairy
­­­­­___x__ 120 Farm and Business Management
­­­­­_____ 130 Horticulture: Commercial and Consumer
­­­­­_____ 140 Iowa Beef Center
­­­­­_____ 150 Iowa Pork Industry Center
­­­­­_____ 160 Natural Resources and Stewardship
_____170 Pesticide Applicator Training
_____180 Other ANR Programs

ANR Priority (select all that apply)

­­­­­__x___Global Food Security and Hunger
­­­­­_____Regional Food Systems
­­­­­_____Natural Resources & Environmental Stewardship
­­­­­_____Food Safety
­­­­­_____Sustainable Energy – Biofuels & Biobased Products
­­­­­_____Climate Change

Title of Success Story

Making Successful Decisions on Robotic Milking Technology

Continuing Story

_____ No                ___x__  Yes (If continuing, what story?) 
These programs are the beginning of a larger program on risk management for dairy producers deciding on what milking technology best fits their farm and financial future.

Knowledge Areas: (USDA categories)


Desired Changes

Learning: Increased knowledge of 1) Robotic Milking Technology, 2) Best Management Practices for Robotic Milking 3) Farm Variables Changed by Robotic Milking and 4) Economics of Robotic Milking (Net Financial Impact and Cash Flow Impact).
Actions: 1) Increased levels of learning in areas above will allow lenders to more accurately assess loan risks to producers and agri-business who work with producers. 2) Increased levels of learning in areas above will allow producers to make more informed decisions when considering implementation of robotic milking technology on their farm.
Conditions: Milk production is of great economic value to NE Iowa.  Increasing knowledge of agricultural lenders to better assess risk to more confidently loan monies to producers and the agri-businesses that work with them has large economic ramifications to local economies.  Increase knowledge of dairy producers to make more informed decisions will assist them staying in business and reduce their risk of financial difficulties resulting from poor decisions.  Good investment decisions increases their propensity to stay in business which is positive for our local economies.

(Why is it important to address this issue with education?  What are the desired changes?)

For example, increasing lender knowledge has made lenders feel more comfortable lending money to a producer wanting to implement robotic milking.  Increasing producer knowledge assists the producers to stay in business.  Each dairy cow generates an estimated $17,000 to the local economy meaning an average 100 cow dairy herd generates $1,700,000 each year to the local economy. Also, increased learning in production and price risk management assist lenders critiquing balance sheets and financial statements of borrowers for projected incomes and expenses into the next year, along with possible expansion or reduction plans.  This knowledge helps reduce the failure rate of loans which is expensive for both the borrower and lender.

(Outputs: activities, numbers reached, publications, products)

Two publications were developed. The first by Larry Tranel and co-authored by Jim Salfer, University of Minnesota entitled “Robotic Milking—A Deal or No Deal for Your Dairy” dealing with the management aspects of robotic milking.  The second publication by Larry Tranel and Kristen Schulte was entitled, “The Economics of Automatic Milking Systems” dealing with the financial and cash flow variables of robotic milking.  Tranel and Schulte also developed a spreadsheet on “Economics of Automatic Milking Systems” as a decision-making tool.

ISU Extension led a six farm tour in three states in the summer, 2011. Presentations regarding robotic milking were done at the Tri-State Agricultural Lenders Seminar and the Midwest Dairy School in Calmar. Powerpoint presentations and handouts were prepared for each of the tours or activities.  An “Economics of Robotic Milking” spreadsheet was prepared by Larry Tranel and Kristen Schulte, ISU Extension farm management specialist in NE Iowa.

In addition, 5 individual farm vists were made to follow-up with producers how this technology might be best incorporated on their farm.

RESULTS (Outcomes:  specific changes that occurred in Learning, Actions, Conditions; how outcomes were measured)

325 producers and agri-business personnel attended the multi-state tours. 25% of the attendees seemed very interested in looking at the possible purchase of robotic milkers. These producers evaluated how robotic milking systems can work in both new and retro-fitted facilities.  Those considering robotic milking systems walked away with ideas for design layout, cow comfort practices, and general investment costs of a robotic milking system.  The also increased understanding of the variables at work when implementing a robotic milking system. The tours provided a network of industry professionals, producers, and Extension, who are all available to help producers take the next step in their decision making process.

 85 lenders attended the Tri-State Agricultural Lenders Seminar to learn  if robotic milking can be a good investment.  Post-pre surveys on 74 of those lenders report the level of knowledge increase to be +7.75 on a scale from 1 to 10 or an increase in knowledge of 775%! This tremendous increase is in part because lender knowledge of robotic milking was very limited to begin with.

When surveyed lenders were asked:   “Has this seminar been of high value for you?”        99% responded YES.

98 dairy students, producers and agri-business personnel attended The Midwest Dairy School on robotic milking, co-sponsored by ISU Extension.  Larry Tranel was a presenter. Results showed on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1=No   5=Yes the following:

--I would recommend this course to others.  Average = 5
--The Instructor was knowledgeable & well-prepared.  Average = 4.6
--The Instructor was able to communicate materials effectively.  Average =  5
--The Instructor provided clear goals and objectives for the class.  Average = 5
--The skills and information taught are applicable for me in my work and/or personal life.  Average = 5

Other results reported in the post survey:

  • Made a better understanding of robots, considering them more now since the meeting.  Good timing!
  • It is very beneficial to bring together producers, students, and professionals
  • Instructor/panels know the topic- experience levels high
  • Producer panel, expert presentation and analysis
  • Very interesting , clear picture of the economics and advantages
  • Great presenters covering all aspects of robotic milking
  • Broad coverage of subject by both suppliers, educators, and customers (producers)
  • A lot of new info that I had not thought of
  • Glad to see a forward thinking seminar on future milking options.  Great group of sponsors/ producers
  • Good interaction--Learned more about robotics
  • Well done, good, broad based information, presenters were knowledgeable and well organized, producer panel was very informative and useful
  • Interactive, open discussion, knowledgeable presenters
  • Both producers and professionals was good,  regulatory people was very beneficial

Thus, the robotic milking tours, the agricultural lenders seminar and the Midwest dairy school showed positive learning experiences and knowledge gained.

Public Value (now or future)
(Impact:  Who benefits beyond participants and how?  What conditions changed?)

The economy is the biggest recipient of these events due to the increased ability of lenders to make informed choices on lending portfolios with producers considering robotic milking.  As stated in the ag-lenders survey, one benefit is: “the on-going references to what we need to monitor in the coming year to support our farmers and manage risk in our portfolios. Thus, the producer clients are benefited through more informed support from their lenders.  This changed condition helps keep them in business.  Their staying in business has a $17,000/cow benefit to the local economy.

Major Partners or Collaborators

NE Iowa Dairy Foundation; NE Iowa Community College; Milk Equipment Dealers

Where story took place
(Region, campus, multi-regional)

Robotic Milking Tours in WI, MN and IA. Lender Seminar hosted in Dubuque, IA.  Midwest Dairy School in Calmar, IA but all had multi-state participation.

Fiscal Year


Multi-state or Integrated (Ext + Research)

All programs were multi-state attended.  States included IA, IL, MN, and WI

Funding Source

Self-funded by participating lenders; sponsors for the school


Agricultural lenders, dairy, risk management, robotic milking


Page last updated: December 12, 2011
Page maintained by Julie Honeick,