A living lab approach to understanding dairy farmers' needs of technologies and data to improve herd health: Focus groups from 6 European countries

J Dairy Sci. 2024 Mar 13:S0022-0302(24)00550-2. doi: 10.3168/jds.2024-24155. Online ahead of print.


For successful development and adoption of technology on dairy farms, farmers need to be included in the innovation process. However, the design of agricultural technologies usually takes a top-down approach with little involvement of end-users at the early stages. Living Labs offer a methodology that involve end-users throughout the development process and emphasize the importance of understanding users' needs. Currently, exploration of dairy farmers' needs of technologies has been limited to specific types of technology (e.g., smartphone apps) and adult cattle. The aim of this study was to use a Living Lab approach to identify dairy farmers' needs of data and technologies to improve herd health and inform innovation development. Eighteen focus groups were conducted with, in total, 80 dairy farmers from Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK. Data were analyzed using Template Analysis and 6 themes were generated which represented the fundamental needs of autonomy, comfort, competence, community and relatedness, purpose, and security. Farmers favored technologies that provided them with convenience, facilitated their knowledge and understanding of problems on farm, and allowed them to be self-reliant. Issues with data sharing and accessibility, and usability of software were barriers to technology use. Furthermore, farmers were facing problems around recruitment and management of labor and needed ways to reduce stress. Controlling aspects of the barn environment, such as air quality, hygiene, and stocking density, was a particular concern in relation to youngstock management. In conclusion, the findings suggest that developers of farm technologies may want to include farmers in the design process to ensure a positive user experience and improve accessibility. The needs identified in this study can be used as a framework when designing farm technologies to strengthen need satisfaction and reduce any potential harm toward needs.

Keywords: dairy farmers; decision support tools; precision livestock technology; responsible innovation; user centred design.