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Clarion Congress & Hotel, Cosmos 3B


Merisa S. Thompson

University of Sheffield

Topic: Changing Relations between Humans, Animals and the Environment in New Zealand Dairy: The Role of Digital Technologies


The increasing intensification of production and consumption of dairy across the world has been linked to climate change, forest destruction, excessive land and water use, water pollution, animal welfare and rising non-communicable diseases. Precision farming – deploying ‘big data’ technologies to achieve efficiency gains – is increasingly advocated by governments and a global dairy sector under pressure from consumers, environmentalists and animal activists alike. However, the consequences of this are poorly understood: inserting ‘big data’, smart and robotic technologies into relations between humans, animals and the environment irrevocably changes how they relate to each other, and to labour and capital, with varying cultural and economic effects.

Drawing on data from 25 interviews with farmers and dairy sector representatives, this paper explores how processes of technological change are reshaping human-animal-environmental relations in the New Zealand dairy sector. As one of the largest milk producing countries in the world, that is often positioned as a dairy innovator, digital technologies are increasingly playing a role across multiple aspects of farm systems management: the environment, animal welfare, health and safety and human resources. This paper explores the processes by which technology has been adopted and the ways in which it intersects with concerns about sustainability. It finds that whilst there is a strong focus on profit and environmental efficiencies, new narratives around work-life balance, industry fragmentation and regimes of regulation, compliance and accountability are also evolving.

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