Smart farming (also referred to as digital farming, digital agriculture and precision agriculture) has largely been driven by productivity and efficiency aims, but there is an increasing awareness of potential socio-ethical challenges. The responsible research and innovation (RRI) approach aims to address such challenges but has had limited application in smart farming contexts. Using smart dairying research and development (R&D) in New Zealand (NZ) as a case study, we examine the extent to which principles of RRI have been applied in NZ smart dairying development and assess the broader lessons for RRI application in smart farming. We draw on insights from: a review of research on dairy technology use in NZ; interviews with smart dairying stakeholders; and the application of an analytical framework based on RRI dimensions. We conclude that smart dairying R&D and innovation activities have focused on technology development and on-farm use without considering socio-ethical implications and have excluded certain actors such as citizens and consumers. This indicates that readiness to enact RRI in this context is not yet optimal, and future RRI efforts require leadership by government or dairy sector organisations to fully embed RRI principles in the guidelines for large R&D project design (what has also been referred to as ‘RRI maturity’). More broadly, enacting RRI in smart farming requires initial identification of RRI readiness in a given sector or country and devising a roadmap and coherent project portfolio to support capacity building for enacting RRI. Additionally, methods (such as RRI indicators) for operationalising RRI must be adapted to the context of the national or sectoral innovation system in which smart farming is being developed.