"Change in this country happens fast. Just a few years ago the sustainability issue was very much on the back burner. Now it is vying for top place in terms of industry concerns. So there is mounting pressure on cattle operations in China to reduce the impact of their activities on the soil and water.
Nonetheless, feed costs are an ongoing challenge and, thus, the top priority remains productivity and how to get higher yields per cow. Indeed, the Chinese government is also looking to increase consumption of milk per capita as a way of ensuring the population’s nutrition needs are met,” Dr Mark Lyons, global vice president of Alltech and director of its China business operations, told us.
Alltech, he said, is one of 16 partners involved in Nestlé’s newly opened Dairy Farming Institute in China’s Heilongjiang province, a best practice training initiative for diary nutritionists and farmers using model farms in an effort to help the Chinese dairy sector reach the global standard in terms of milk output.
Lyons said while there are a lot of large scale dairy farms in China, a good percentage are inefficient.
Currently, milk production in the Asian giant is dropping and is being compensated by imports. Five million cows in China produce 35 million tons annually. “It needs to be at least 60 million tons by 2020 to meet the project higher demand,” he continued.
The average annual milk yield per cow in China is around 5,000 liters per 300 days lactation cycle. The project partners want to increase those yields so they match the 8,000 to 9,000 liter output rate of dairy producers in New Zealand and Australia.
“Boosting imports of cows from countries like Australia is one way of going about generating such productivity gains but it is a culturally sensitive and complicated process, which is not really sustainable long term.
A more realistic and feasible approach, and one that informs our initiative, is a program focused on training around genetics, nutrition and improving the welfare and health of cattle for greater longevity,” said Lyons.
The Nestlé Institute consists of farms ranging in industry relevant scale from small - 200 to 450 cows - to medium - 600 to 1,200 cows to large - 3,600 to 8,000 cows.
“We want the training center in Heilongjiang to be the reference point for the Chinese dairy industry. But we are not going after only the largest dairy operations. We want to ensure the small scale farmers are sustainable and profitable as well.
Furthermore, this consortium is not about a group of foreign companies looking to preach to Chinese dairy farmers about best practice. While the principal project leaders are not Chinese, the training staff are.
And the farmers that we have had in, so far, get it. They see the technology and they understand the benefits so, critically, we are gaining their trust,” said Lyons.
As well as bringing its nutrition portfolio to the table, he said Alltech is lending its technology expertise to the educational program through a laboratory at the Nestlé Institute.
The firm will be leveraging its In Vitro Fermentation Model (IFM), a diagnostic tool that predicts milk yields based on feed formulations.
Lyons said it has helped generate milk yield gains of 10 to 15% when employed on a number of dairy farms in the US and Canada.
Using the IFM technology, feed samples are incubated within a standardized rumen fluid and a buffer system to mimic natural rumen fermentation. IFM then measures gas production, identifies ration inefficiencies and provides additional data on the nutritive value of the feed.
He said the technology also allows Alltech to evaluate diets based on agricultural by-products such as corn stalks, a tool which could help alleviate Chinese dairy industry’s reliance on feed imports.