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See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

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  • Animal Science
  • Dairy
  • Statistics and Data Science
  • Digital Agriculture
Miel Hostens, the Robert and Anne Everett Associate Professor of Digital Dairy Management, Department of Animal Science

Academic focus: Data-driven dairy management

Research summary: I have worked over 15 years in the dairy industry in research, education and extension. My lab focuses on developing data-driven agriculture and integrated precision dairy farming. My recent work focuses on the use of AI to accelerate the development of decision support tools and federated methods to contribute to sustainable food production systems from a global perspective.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

It might sound strange, but I continue being data-driven when I’m not working. I typically try to automate as much as I can in my house for re-occurring jobs. You can see some of my projects on GitHub such as an automated chicken incubator project (https://github.com/MielHostens/Pincubator). To remain healthy, and as long as my joints will keep up, I’m an active long-distance runner. My wife and I are veterinarians with a passion for dairy; in our free time we love taking our two kids (Nora and Leon) to dairy shows or see show cows on dairies.

What are your current outreach/extension projects?

Before leaving Europe, I was approached by nongovernmental organizations to use AI-driven methods to monitor welfare in dairy cows. Several of my extension projects are using vision-based analytics for this purpose. 

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

Passionate, inventive, down to earth.

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?

The dairy unit of the Department of Animal Science combines some of the best researchers in the industry across several topics, such as methane, nutrition, reproduction, metabolism, etc. One of the often-mentioned methods to mitigate the impact of livestock on climate change is the use of data and precision technology. I felt my expertise in data-driven dairy science could significantly contribute to the group. I loved to hear about the group’s vision “from local-to-global” empowered through the PRO-DAIRY extension service.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

The dairy industry has always embraced data, but the speed at which data and technology is entering our industry nowadays might feel overwhelming for some. In the early days as a bovine practitioner, I started appreciating the real value of data in decision making, instead of having to rely on my limited practical experience, or even worse my gut feeling. I’m convinced data will not erase any dairy professional anywhere soon, but the professional who doesn’t use data will be replaced by one who does.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

My grandmother, milking cows by hand, made me become a bovine practitioner first. My mother inspired me to explore my maternal genes which seemed to excel at analytics and engineering. During my Ph.D., I watched the dairy industry become more data-driven through the introduction of precision technology. I recognized the need for more applied research at that sweet spot between dairy and technology, and the rest is history!

Learn more about Miel from his lab website

What’s the most surprising/interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?

The first month I was here, I was positively surprised by the number of opportunities for digital agriculture at Cornell University and beyond. I participated in the Digital Hackathon to find many students who were actively interested in this field. Within the first month of being at Cornell, three undergraduate students present at the event joined my lab to work on AI in automated welfare monitoring. I have not witnessed such motivation in undergraduates in my career so far.

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