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Economic Futures Weak signals

Automation for a less homogenised dairy market

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Last year, a Dutch agricultural machine manufacturer released an on-farm automated dairy processing system. Lely’s “Orbiter” is a miniature processing plant that allows farmers to process milk directly from cow to bottle. According to the company, this method safeguards the milk’s quality, ensures optimal taste, and speeds up delivery to the consumer.

The system also gives farmers new options and control over the value chain – for example to customise the processing and labelling of their product. 

This example suggests that we might see how new automation technologies could foster decentralised production and local differentiation of products in the future. It disrupts the assumptions that automation always favours giant firms and that agricultural products such as milk are destined to always be homogenous commodities. The ‘cow-to-bottle’ model of agriculture might foster a connoisseur relationship with the product – allowing food tours and culinary experts (milk sommeliers?) to promote the differences in taste from farm to farm, and even from cow to cow. Local automation, when combined with supply chain traceability, could also increase consumers’ options to support different farming practices. Consumers could express their preferences – possibly down to the ‘cow level’ – about the feeding and quality of life of animals. By distinguishing their milk as fresher, unique-tasting, or of higher quality, some farmers may respond to volatile markets and  increased competition by justifying a premium price. If North American consumers could easily choose among local “craft milk” varieties, this may further encourage an aesthetic engagement with their food.


Meet the World’s First Milk Sommelier

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Martin Berry

At Horizons, Martin has worked with teams studying economic, social and technological issues, and facilitated countless fascinating conversations. Armed with empathy and a fondness for listening, he continues his learning journey in the path of designer. Martin worked as a set designer and in the video game industry for a decade. Listening to the wisdom of his wife, he went back to school in Industrial Design, only to graduate in Foresight and Innovation.

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