Diversity in agricultural technology adoption: How are automatic milking systems used and to what end?

Abstract

Adoption of technology in agriculture can significantly reorganize production and relationships amongst humans, animals, technology, and the natural environment. However, the adoption of agricultural technology is not homogenous, and diversity in integration leads to a diversity of outcomes and impacts. In this study, we examine the adoption of automated milking systems (AMS) in small and midsize dairy farms in the US Midwest, the Netherlands, and Denmark. In contrast to technological determinism, we find significant variation amongst adopters in the implementation of AMS and corresponding variation in outcomes. Adopters have significant discretion in determining the use of AMS, which leads to a diversity of possible outcomes for family and non-family labor, human–cow relationships, animal welfare, the environment, and financial resiliency. Adoption and implementation are shaped by both structural factors, such as debt load and labor market variation, and by farmers’ individual personality traits and values, such as a willingness (or not) to release control to technology. Rather than uniform adoption and impacts of technology, we highlight the importance of context, the co-constitution of technology and users, and the diversity of technology adoption and its associated impacts.

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Acknowledgments

This project was funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The authors would like to thank colleagues at W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and graduate student Matthew McDermott.

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Correspondence to Rebecca L. Schewe.

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Schewe, R.L., Stuart, D. Diversity in agricultural technology adoption: How are automatic milking systems used and to what end?. Agric Hum Values 32, 199–213 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-014-9542-2

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Keywords

  • Technology
  • Environment
  • Labor
  • Animal welfare
  • Dairy farming
  • Animal studies