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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Technology connects farmers with their cows


By MaryBeth Matzek
Doug Reinemann, a biological systems engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, was at a conference talking to a farmer who happened to look down at his phone. He had just received a text message from the farm, reporting either a problem with the robotic milker or one of his cows.

"I thought – it's great how technology is allowing this farmer to go out and about doing his business, but he can still be in touch with what's going on at the farm," Reinemann says. So when UW-Extension was looking for ideas for its weekly podcast, he suggested the idea of the "texting cows." After it was posted, he soon got calls from local and state media outlets about the "texting cows" as well as farmers looking for more information.

"The whole thing kind of took off," Reinemann says.

The cows are obviously not holding phones, but they are tagged with a device that is read by a dairy's robotic milk machine. As each cow enters the milking station, the machine reads the cow's number and makes a note of her activity. That means if Cow 356 is coming too frequently to the machine or is producing less milk, the machine's computer sends a message via text to the farmer that there may be something wrong with the cow.

Reinemann says there are several different alert levels. The most important alert is that a machine isn't working. From there, the farmer can program what kind of alerts he wants to receive, such as milk yield or visit frequency.

"This kind of information allows a farmer to manage cows individually. He knows what each cow is doing rather than just a general overview of what the entire herd is doing production-wise, for example," he says. "This technology is leading to better animal care."

Kohler course economic impact

The golfing world may focus this summer on a Kohler-run golf course when Whistling Straits along Lake Michigan once again hosts the PGA Championships in August, but some Sheboygan County residents are more focused on another potential golf course.

Last year, the Kohler Co. proposed building a $25 million golf course on land it owns in the town of Wilson – just south of the city of Sheboygan. An economic impact study performed by SB Friedman Development Advisors in Chicago predicts the new course would bring another $20.6 million into the county annually and create 106 full-time equivalent jobs at the course and another 121 full-time workers elsewhere at businesses serving the golfers.

In addition, during the three years it takes to build the course, 95 full-time construction jobs would be created and an expected $12.5 million in economic impact would be generated. But those numbers don't console some area residents opposed to Kohler building the 18-hole course. A group called Friends of the Black River Forest say the course will harm 247 acres of pristine woodland and that the water and chemicals needed to keep the course green will harm the environment.

Just last week, Kohler said it would scale back the number of acres needed for the course from 33 to 4 and impact fewer acres of nearby wetlands.

The Kohler Co. applied to the town's planning commission for a conditional use permit for the golf course. If that is approved, it would then go before the town board. No dates are set for either vote.

Merrill revival

The city of Merrill in Lincoln County received a $417,250 grant from Wisconsin's Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Program to help fund a $1.4 million plan to redevelop 19 acres of vacant industrial property along the Wisconsin River.

The project calls for the demolishing the aging, idle buildings on site and clearing the land to make way for new development that will ultimately create jobs and increase the city's tax base while drawing more attention to the Wisconsin River.

The Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Program was started in 2013 by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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