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Digital innovation could help pandemic-proof the UK's dairy industry

21 October 2020

Dairy farmers across the UK could benefit from a new project which aims to make the industry resilient to threats like COVID-19.

The project, Smart-ET is funded by EIT Food and will develop digital tools working with farmers and dairy sellers to help them adapt their business models to rapid changes in consumer’s demand in case of extreme events which disrupt their normal ways of working. These digital tools will allow economic agents in the dairy system to react to changing conditions and issue stock ‘"alerts" that will help reduce wastage and the economic damage caused by destroying otherwise good dairy products.

Dr Giuseppe Nocella from the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading said:

“In February and March of 2020, Northern Italy saw significant outbreaks of COVID-19 leading to widespread restrictions to keep people safe. One of the economic impacts of this lockdown was that dairy farmers who normally rely on rapid movement in the supply chain found that they lost income and had to throw away vast quantities, particularly of milk.

“This was costly for dairy businesses because the hotel, restaurant and catering sector was shut down and they had to identify alternative channels in hyper local markets to sell their products. In response, a team set out to see how the industry could adapt to rapid changes and cope with future extreme events.

“What we quickly found was that there was no reactive model that can help farmers and food producers communicate with each other to adapt to changing demands. It could have been possible for dairy farmers to stockpile their produce and use it for cheese rather [instead of dumping] their milk when it began to go off, but without a centrally available system the farmers had no way of knowing that producers would have used it.”

As well as the University of Reading, the project consists of other four European partners: Università Cattolica (coordinator), Agricolus, Associazione Italiana Allevatori, Centro Ricerche Produzioni Animali and System Dynamics Italian Chapter.

Click here for more information about this project.



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