From Cows to the Cloud, Dairy Development in India harnesses high tech to retain global pole position

27th November 2022
From Cows to the Cloud, Dairy Development in India harnesses high tech to retain global pole position
Cow-to-Cloud at the Chitale Dairy in Maharashtra

November 27 2022: The central government  Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying celebrates November 26 every year as “National Milk Day” to commemorate  the birthday  of Dr. Verghese Kurien,  known  as “Father of the White Revolution in India”,  or less formally as  India’s doodhwala or Milk Man. 
This year on his 101st birth anniversary, the   official observance is part of  “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”  and is being held in Karnataka state, where the government of India joins the  National Dairy Development Board and the Karnataka Milk Federation to organize  the  event. 
Union Minister of State for Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Balyan    virtually “laid” the foundation stone of  an advanced training facility at  the Central Frozen Semen Production and Training Institute and launch  in vitro fertilization  activities at the Central Cattle Breeding Farm Hessarghatta,  Bengaluru. The annual Gopal Ratna Awards for achievements in the livestock and dairy sector were also announced today.
Apart from the ritual observance, 2022 is a turning point of sorts in the long history of the dairy business in India, ever since Dr Kurien helped establish the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union – popularly known by its subsequent brand name Amul – in Anand, Gujarat in 1950.
Speaking  during September this year at the World Dairy Summit 2022 of the International Dairy Federation in  Greater Noida, NCR,  Amul Managing Director R. S. Sodhi,  said India’s milk production – 210 million tonnes in 2021 --  is expected to jump three-fold  in the next 25 years at an annual growth rate of 4.5% to reach 628 million tonnes.  This would make her share of global milk production 45% from the present 23%.
India has been the world’s largest producer of milk since 1997, when it overtook the US. It has emerged as one of the crucial and consistently well-performing sectors of the economy contributing just under 5% to the GDP and providing employment to over 80 million rural households, who tend 300 million bovines. The milk market in India is growing at a steady 15-16% every year, thanks to new dairy technologies, improved logistics and supply chains . 
The government announced a $ 2.1 billion infrastructure development fund  and interest subsidies, in June 2020 to promote  private sector  investments.  The results have been quick and fast:  The largest independent dairy supply chain technology provider in the US – – entered the Indian market in October 2021, by acquiring Mr Milkman,  the  leading Indian last-mile dairy  supply software-as-a-platform player.  Mr Milkman’s  software platform is being used by over 60 dairy brands, countrywide, including  familiar brands like Akshayakalpa, Gyan Dairy, Whyte Farms, Abis Dairy, Carnival Group, Healthways and Fortune Dairy.
This has drastically changed the core  of milk production from an unorganized small milk producer with  a dozen cows to a technology-driven industry where large aggregators work with hundreds of small dairy farmers  to ensure a steady and lucrative market. Dr Kurien’s vision which saw  milk marketing federations  spread across the states to regional  federations with popular  brands like Mother Dairy, Aavin, Aarey, Milma, Nandini,  Vijaya,  has now inspired a new generation of  technology-driven  dairies in the private sector.
‘Connected Cows’
When Vishvas Chitale took over the reins at Maharashtra’s Chitale Dairy in 2015,, then the  largest private milk producer in India, he decided that technology was the only way to scale up an operation that  produced  around 60 million litres of milk annually from its own  farm in Bhilawadi, in Maharashtra's Sangli district  as well as some 50,000 farmers, statewide.
He turned to VMware software and Dell computer hardware, using them to  create a unique Cows-to-Cloud platform.   He tagged thousands of animals, embedding tiny  radio frequency ( RF Identification  or RFID) chips embedded in their ear lobes,  transmitting  information on feeding and milking  status,  in effect making them all ‘connected cows’, automating  the entire milk production ecosystem.   To provide  health services, artificial insemination, and  blood profiling of each animal to identify disease or nutritional deficiencies, the data is shared with the farmers via  simple SMS messages, to help them optimally manage their herds. Today the Chitale Dairy ecosystem  of connected cows exceeds a quarter million, across Maharashtra.
Identify  cow by its muzzle
Injecting RFID chips into animals and other methods of tagging them have their costs, are limited time-wise  by their inbuilt batteries and could be tampered with. A new technology was on display at the recently concluded Bengaluru Tech Summit, by  Taramani, Chennai-based Dvara e-Dairy.  The company found that the muzzle  (jaw) of the  bovine is unique to that animal , like  a fingerprint in humans.
It created Surabhi ID, the muzzle-based identity  solution: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning  is used to capture, retrieve and verify a  bovine’s identity based on the muzzle prints. With just a smartphone and an app  a farmer can  identify the bovine. This is critical to track milk  productivity, health management of the animal, recording its feed pattern and avoid duplication of the asset while offering financial services.     
See Image of the Day for an illustration of this solution
This last factor has proved very useful for insurance companies who can confirm if the animal insured is alive, throughout the period of the policy and can accurately  identify the bovine during insurance claims.
Today the Surabhi ID is used by insurance companies to track over 25,000 animals in 10 states.
In May this year, Tamil Nadu-based Milky Mist, a leading dairy brand in South India, partnered with Dvara E-Dairy Solutions to provide new-age technology solutions to its over 60,000 dairy farmers across the 13 districts in Tamil Nadu. Milky Mist procures approximately 6 lakh litres of milk daily from these farmers to produce an array of dairy products
Robotic Milking
Automatic milking using Robotic  milking apparatus connected to the animal’s teats is now standard practice in  most professionally managed dairies in India. By reducing costs and maintaining a clean and sanitary milking operation,  the industry has been able to control costs and ensure quality. The sensors  can detect when a teat is ready for milking and the system has a built-in quality checker to  separate milk that is not fit for human consumption
Here too Indian ingenuity has simplified the process for small   farmers who cannot afford a  robotic system. Even in 2005, Raghav Gowda, a South Karnataka teacher in Sulya taluk, won a national award and a patent for his invention of a simple   manually operated non-electric milking mechanism that  has been used by  lakhs  small operators.
Monitoring via drone
With large herds, monitoring their movements while grazing was a manpower intensive task,   long romanticised by the gwala or  gopala   in films and legends going all the way back to Lord Krishna. Today  drones do the job.  Agricultural drones  form a new and growing niche – and some drones tailored for cattle monitoring are fitted with thermal sensors that track animals through their body heat. Other applications include  scanning of pastures to check on their grazability.
This February 2022 article in Krishi Jagran   by Shivani Mehta provides many other examples of  new technologies being ploughed into dairy farming.
Cold Chains
The storing and safe transport  of milk  has emerged as a new challenge as  the supply chains  from dairy to consumer  grow.  The flagship programme of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana ( PMKSY) has  been extended till 2026 with a Rs 4600 crore  fund. Among the beneficiaries are  schemes  of the  Animal Husbandry and Dairy ministry for setting integrated  Cold Chains and Food Safety infrastructure. Here too technology is increasingly bringing in efficiency and  scale.
As consumers become more health-aware, they demand milk that is straight from the farm, with no additives – variously known as organic or A2 milk. Today in the world’s leading milk producing nation,  technology is increasingly  harnessed to ensure  both quality and quantity of this  best of all foods.