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Spotlight on Argentina: A Dairy Sector With Ambition

22 April 2014

Global dairy consumption’s meteoric rise presents an opportunity for any dairy farmer and in Argentina a very bullish sector is aiming high, writes Michael Priestley.

Against a backdrop of competitive milk pricing from an extensive range of milk buyers, Argentinian dairying is confident it can blossom in the future with several targets set for 2020.

In 2010, Argentina's 2.15 million cows produced an average of 5,155 litres per lactation giving a national output of 10.4 billion litres.

A development framework is now in place to expand the industry to 2.95 million cows averaging 6,649 litres per lactation – 18.3 billion litres overall.

Last week, the National Health and Food Quality Service (SENASA) announced that national production reached 11.4 billion litres in 2013. This means major work is yet to be done to lift the 2010 figure by 76 per cent as required.

Argentina’s Industry Overview

Government figures show 97 per cent of Argentina’s milk herd to be Holando-Argentino, an adapted Holstein breed noted for its excellent forage conversion ability.

Dairy operations are primarily grazing based, with 99 per cent of dairies confined to the Pampas region, a productive agricultural landscape of temperate climate in which dairy competes with arable operations.

Holando-Argentino cows and Braford cows grazing 

The Pampas stretches from the east coast near Bahia Blanca northwards to Buenos Aires and inland covering more than 289,577 square miles (750,000 kilometres).

Argentina’s prime dairy regions are Cordoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires which all lie within the Pampas region and account for approximately 92 per cent of production.

Cattle feeding estimates by the World Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2011 revealed a typical Argentinian dairy cow received 56 per cent sown pasture forage, grains concentrates (27 per cent) and 17 per cent maize silage.

Dairying is seldom exclusive to an operation and beef and grain farming commonly accompanies a rotational forage dairy system.

Extensive cropping in the Pampas has held dairying back to an extent as the price of Soy has elevated land values and driven arable interest.

Historically, this has meant that, despite feed and labour being cheap, farm expansion is costly.

Disease: Tuberculosis and Brucellosis

SENASA has prioritised disease control and biosecurity as a platform from which to build livestock industries.

National SENASA records now indicate tuberculosis is not a problem on the vast majority of farms – 8009 farms have been confirmed officially ‘tuberculosis free’.

This is according to SENASA’s Director of Health Programming, Nicholas Winter, who this month said: "Argentina's dairy primary production comes from herds free of brucellosis and tuberculosis, which are under official control programs and eradication of both diseases, implemented by SENASA.”

In 1998 SENASA established a national tuberculosis strategy focussing on the zoonotic elements of the disease in a guideline entitled Code of Practice for Milk and Milk Products Codex Committee on Food Hygeine.

Four years later farmers were required to vaccinate youngstock against Brucellosis, along with Foot and Mouth Disease.

Since then, epidemiological surveillance has become standard through the food supply chain with processors coming on board with milk monitoring schemes.

The Future is White

Experts expect Argentinian dairying to follow modern dairy trends by moving more cows inside and seeing herd size grow as farm numbers decrease.

Confusion remains over confined systems and whether to choose dry lot or free stalls, although experts say expansion decisions are informed by an appreciation of farm economics and cow comfort.

As farmers try and drive production higher, improving cow longevity is becoming a major issue. Land values may also impinge on the rate of expansion.

Commenting on Argentina’s plans, an agricultural minister said: "Our aim is to position ourselves as one of the leading producers of high value-added foods worldwide.”

 April 2014

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