April 2016

A device developed by a dairy farmer for safe and economic water use in dairy shed milk lines

Graeme and Alison Franklin have developed an electronic probe that detects the difference between milk and water, allowing dairy farmers to maximise production and prevent water entering the vat, thereby increasing income and eliminating risk.

Graeme who was dairying until 1988, had a nightmare that all the wash water went into the vat on his son’s farm because he had forgotten to turn the tap manually away from the vat to the waste.

If wash water goes into the vat not only are farmers up for thousands of dollars of fines and a grade, they risk losing that day’s production. Insurance companies only allow one such claim a year, and most farmers would prefer to be protected against penicillin contamination rather than water.

Graeme’s nightmare made him realise there had to be a way to prevent this problem occurring.

Alison says they had been to Mystery Creek and listened to Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, so they rang her and she put them in contact with another professor at Waikato University. From there they met an electronics engineer in Tauranga who put a prototype together.

Called the DTexH2o, it is an electronic probe which can tell the difference between milk and water. When the washdown water crosses the probes, an initial alarm is sounded to remind the milker to turn the tap at the vat away to the waste.

Each dairy shed is calibrated to allow for a second alarm which tells the farm exactly when to turn the tape, thereby maximising the milk in the vat.

The Franklins won the 2014 National Fieldays Most Viable Business Award for agricultural innovations with their DTexH2o.

Graeme is the “Gepetto” and is a real lateral thinker while Alison is promoting the probe. “We are a great team; we really complement each other.”

When a dairy shed is washed down, water is pumped through the pipes, pushing the last milk through into the vat. It is up to the farmer to re­-route the water to stop it going in the vat. Turning the valve too early means milk goes down the drain.  Too late and water goes in the vat, which can mean decreased milk quality and fines from the dairy company. Often this decision is made by the farmer putting their hand on the pipe and feeling when the cold water passes by.

The DTexH2o is installed in the pipeline, and sets off an alarm when water passes by the probe, giving the farmer a pre­-set amount of time to switch the valve.  “It removes the idiot factor,” says Alison, who takes care of the marketing side of business.

As well as removing the risk of the farmer getting distracted and forgetting to turn the valve, it gives them peace of mind when the shed is being run by casual workers and relief milkers.

A third of dairy farmers can’t afford a drop of water in their vats because they are on total water exclusions says Alison Franklin. Complying with dairy company requirements just gets tougher and tougher she says, and in future she believes there will be zero tolerance across the board for any water in the vat.

Sixty of the devices have already been installed in milking sheds, and it has been tested by rural science company QCONZ, with a 100 per cent pass rate.

The probe is patented, and there is nothing else in the world like it Alison says. It can be retro-fitted into any shed.

MPI has approved the product for installation, a prerequisite of Fonterra, and the Franklins have a contract with a group of Tauranga manufacturers.

The first model was installed in Graeme’s son’s dairy shed, where it hasn’t needed to be altered since installation. Graeme says he’s been trying to find faults in it, but can’t.  He says the hardest part of the process has been the marketing.  But for him it’s very straightforward: on average dairy farmers are milking three or four cows a day to tip their milk down the drain. His invention means all their milk goes into the vat and is paid for.

“The farmers who have it in swear by it.”

The couple won at $15,000 start-up grant from Soda Inc to help them develop their business plans and strategic plan. This was a training and mentoring programme, which Alison found “amazing”. She travelled up to Waikato for training over a three month period.

At the moment sales are quiet because dairy farmers have shut their wallets. Most units will pay for themselves in only 40 to 62 days Alison says.

A prototype model is being trialled in Colombia at the moment. There, dairy farmers are paid by the litre and some people add water to increase the volumes. The dairy company uses the probe as the milk is being pumped into the tanker.

As well, a cloud-based telecommunications company is involved, so that their probe is part of the wider reporting from a farm.

Graeme is designing another product for the dairy industry based on the same principle, but the product is still under wraps.