Growing up on a dairy in rural Wisconsin, no one has to tell Nate McDonald how poor the internet connectivity is in the nation’s second-largest milk-producing state.
Even today, about 25 percent of Wisconsin’s rural population lacks access to high-speed internet. Multiply those connectivity issues across all dairy-producing states (and Canada) and McDonald’s job as Product Manager for Automation and Software at BouMatic becomes even more challenging.
“Without high-speed, reliable internet it’s tough to manage your family and your dairy business, let alone implement progressive technologies like RealTime Activity tracking and HerdMetrix software tools,” said McDonald.
That’s why the BouMatic team signed up to trial Elon Musk’s highly publicized Starlink satellite internet.
Starlink’s low-orbit satellite internet service is being tested by only about 10,000 U.S. and Canadian consumers today as an alternative to in-ground fiber infrastructure or high orbit satellite service.
Starlink internet orders are currently considered on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Our software engineers experience frustration just as our dairies and technicians do when internet connectivity is an issue, so they took it upon themselves to research alternative internet sources. They got their names on the list for a Starlink testing group and we’ve been running our systems on Starlink for several weeks,” said McDonald.
Elon Musk is well known for his visionary efforts for consumer travel to Mars. The BouMatic strategy is to think beyond the features and benefits of its products and become a trusted partner for dairy farmers.
“We have the innovation, but with our experiences growing up on dairy operations, we also have the heart to help dairy farmers care for their cows first and take on tomorrow’s technology challenges,” said McDonald. “We want our customers and dealers to be able to access high-speed internet to know when a cow is ready for AI or to remote-access a herd management tool for software updates and troubleshooting.”
“To understand what it is like to implement a precision management software like HerdMetrix without reliable internet, I tell people to turn off the updates on their Apple phone for two months and see how well it works without regular improvements,” said McDonald. “Regardless if it’s your smartwatch, smartphone, or your cow’s activity tracker, software programs need regular maintenance from cloud-based systems which require reliable, high-speed internet.”
In a recent survey with their BouMatic dealers, the company learned that only 50-60% of their current customers have reliable high-speed internet access. “Nearly all dairies have some sort of internet, but not enough power and dependability to run the most progressive precision herd management systems available,” said McDonald.
Because those herd management systems can mean cost-saving and more overall profit, many dairy operations are missing out.
“If we’re truly able to get 90% of our customers on fast, reliable internet, it not only makes our products better, it allows better troubleshooting so we can move to even better technologies,” McDonald said. “With more widespread speed and reliability, the dairy industry doesn’t have to worry about leaving operations behind. That’s why we’re looking at every option available to help our customers, including Space-X.”
McDonald admits testing StarLink internet is not only a win for BouMatic’s dairy customers but the company’s product development team.
“Today, every time our BouMatic automation team develops a new software or package upgrade, we not only do we have to design and test for scenarios with high-speed internet, but we also have to design and test for dial-up or limited connectivity to ensure our customers get the best possible experience with their BouMatic automation tools,” said McDonald.
“If every dairy had high-speed reliable internet we could cut our design and testing time significantly and bring new, faster, better software tools to the market more quickly,” noted McDonald.
McDonald dreams big when it comes to the future of rural broadband and what it can mean for his company’s dairy customers.
“We are still testing StarLink to see if it is everything people say it can be. We aren’t selling it as a product, but if it’s reliable then we can recommend it to our dealers and our dairies. Our engineers and product developers come from dairies in rural areas with poor internet. We know your struggles,” said McDonald. “More importantly, this StarLink pilot proves BouMatic is always looking for the next product, service or process to improve the life of your dairy.”