I went to INTA Lechero to visit Milba Vera, a graduate in Genetics and Specialist in Genetic Improvement in Dairy Cattle. She, and only she, could put black and white on brown, and offer me a broad and objective vision of reality. So I asked her: Gallons or solids? I share with you what she told me.
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The solids/gallons issue is in the air, but it has not been resolved. Some producers have told me that after crunching the numbers, it was still convenient for them to produce more gallons, others, because of the characteristics of their system, found it more convenient to go for solids, and others more apathetic that if they were not going to be paid for it, it was not worth questioning it… From the other side, La Industria assures me that, of course, solids are valued and paid for.

So who is right and who is wrong? I needed to go to the bone, and have someone honest and fair-minded tell me the whats and hows of the matter, in order to draw my own conclusions.

While touring Santa Fe, a dairy area par excellence in our country, I went to the Agricultural Experimental Station Rafaela to visit Milba Vera, a Genetics graduate and Specialist in Genetic Improvement in Dairy Cattle. She, and only she, could put black on white, and offer me a broad and documented vision of reality.
And then, I asked her:

Gallons or solids?

The world trend is solids. The difference with us… And we are so bold that we compete with our raw material worldwide with the difference we have in terms of dairy policies.

At world level everything is endorsed by an agreement between the industries and the whole dairy chain, including marketing. Why? Because at the industrial level it is convenient for them to have a greater amount of solids because it yields more. Besides, the transportation of liquids is very expensive and you are spending a lot of money transporting something that is not so efficient at industry level. In the rest of the countries this is prioritized, everybody and the industries pay for solids.

It has been discussed here in Argentina for a long time at the dairy tables, but it is the industry that has to pay for this background at the raw material production level. And the industry does not pay for it. For that reason we do not have a national policy that obliges or agrees with the industry to pay the producer for it.

The industry says it does pay.

But who evaluates the quality of the milk? The industry. So the producer has an official -or unofficial- milk control and then there is the industry control, which is a tank control and generally is not the same, especially in solids. If there are “too many” solids, the surplus is not paid. This is a big discussion at the dairy table at the national level.

Yesterday I was in a cooperative in Ataliva, and they told me that they have among their members, a small group that produces solids par excellence and withdraws from those farms directly for certain companies, which pay a differential price.

The producer works to earn money. Take all the genetic part out of the way. Everything has to be in line with the producer producing a raw material and his buyer paying him well for it, that is to say: what it costs to produce it plus a profit.

The genetic basis goes hand in hand with the commercial. If what they sell is “milk”, whatever color and quality it is, they are going to produce “milk”. Why are they going to incorporate breeds that produce more fat and protein, if they are paid for “milk” and it doesn’t matter what it contains?

There are many producers who, for other biological reasons, have incorporated other animals, crossbreeds or not, or other breeds, and they are in charge of selling the product or industrializing their milk themselves. So, small or large jersey dairy farms produce their own cheeses, or they negotiate with specific industries that pay the surplus and that do pay for solids. That is where the difference in price can be seen.

And what is INTA’s research on milk quality aimed at?

The UPLI (Intensive Milk Production Unit) dairy was a pioneer 20/25 years ago in incorporating a crossbreed in a dairy. This was black and white because the Holando is the one that produces the most liters of milk in the world. Then come breeds like the Jersey and many others, but the Jersey is the one that can best accommodate to produce a little more milk and with a lot of solids. Other breeds produce a lot more solids but much less gallons. These are breed characteristics.

At the time, a large company incorporated the Jersey, thinking that it could solve other types of dairy management problems, reduce production costs, for example, not exactly increase solids. They did it from one day to the next, without advice, and at a certain point they did not know how to continue. That was when they asked INTA to take some animals on loan so that they could start to find out how to continue. That was the beginning of the UPLI dairy farm. From the beginning, this dairy was a crossbreed.

In a system where they have Holando, there is a lot of milk production and a lot of feed cost. So, how to keep a crossbred herd that does not decrease the productive levels, and how can this type of animal be justified? Supposedly, it is supposed to reduce the cost of production.

At the same time, biologically, there is a negative correlation, genetically and phenotypically, between high levels of cow production and decreased fertility. It was a problem they needed to solve. INTA brought those animals, enlarged the number of the herd and closed it as a system, and they asked themselves, “What can we do with these animals, so that this system is sustainable, sustainable and competitive in the central dairy basin?”

We discovered a lot of things over the years and the use of crossbred animals was justified and worked very well under a high stocking system, that is, more animals per square meter of surface area than the Holando allows, because that way the pasture gives you, the feeding systems give you.

In the same space, two smaller animals like a jersey, instead of a larger one like a Holando.

Exactly. It can be done in animal units or in animal kilograms. The difference is that, for example, a Holando cow weighs 700 kg, maybe in this situation you do not put exactly two Jersey animals, but you make the equivalence in kilograms in Jersey.

One and a half.

Of course. With all these years, we can say: they are efficient, they are sustainable, they are sustainable under these conditions and they are justified by increasing the stocking rate. You can get

The dairy farm produces and is competitive. If you add to this the fact that you sell your milk to a company that really pays you for the solids produced, you have already closed the system.

To achieve this, you have to take into account all the necessary strategies for the dairy to be sustainable.

We made a comparison of the productivity of milk systems with pure Jersey breeds, with pure Holando breeds, with crossbreeding, and we have the experiences measured under three or four productivity parameters, liters of milk produced per hectare, solids per hectare, etc., and all of them are sustainable. And all of them can be improved if you introduce technology.

Nowadays, here in Argentina, if those who manage the dairy farms are good and competitive, they can work with any type of breed, which does not mean that genetic improvement is not possible.

The countries with which we compete have national genetic improvement programs. They all said “we are going to produce more solids, more protein, more fat, and we are going to produce fewer liters”.

New Zealand, Spain, Holland, Australia, France, United States, are all countries that have national genetic improvement programs where the industries, state agencies and the government got together and evaluated the world demand, the production they have, how much they are going to pay and what the genetic improvement program is going to be.

We never had that. Because politically they do not agree and the industry does not agree with the government how much it should pay and the government, in turn, does not support the producer.

As a consequence, when we want to carry out a genetic improvement program, we do not know which way to turn. Some want liters, others want protein and others tell you that since they sell breeding stock, what they need is for them to be pretty. This should not be like that. That is why crossbreeding works here.

And how can we generate a space for discussion in which we can start talking about this need, so that all the legs walk on the same side? For example, tomorrow there is a meeting of the dairy chain in Rosario, a good opportunity to discuss this issue but it is not on the agenda.

It is not a difficult issue, it is a historical issue. We are the only country where the producer, whom everyone criticizes, goes out with the money, spends it and risks it alone. We produce and compete at world level with that risk that in the rest of the world would not be thought of. The government has to have support policies for all productive sectors, it has to be by law.

And from where do we have to start pushing for that to happen?

This brings many problems that sometimes become evident in time, and due to concrete needs, they are put on the table for discussion. For example, the official milk control, which is the way in which the producer registers what he produces, and then serves as material to make genetic evaluations, and to make a national program of animal genetic improvement, is managed by the Asociación de Criadores de Holando Argentino (A.C.H.A.).

The Ministry gives A.C.H.A. the authority to manage it. This, in fact, is an obligation of the Ministry, because it should not have an interest. A.C.H.A. is an Association, and now it manages the registry of offspring, the issue of genetic evaluations, and it manages a concept in which it does not even think of getting together with the industry and reaching an agreement on payments and making a program, because it is not its priority.

At the time, A.C.H.A. had a lot of partners who paid for a service and it was all good. Then came the pandemic, and during that time the dairy controllers couldn’t get into the dairies. Then came a whole economic problem, and the producer was discarding the costs that he did not prioritize, which led to more than 60% of the producers who were associated to A.C.H.A. to leave.

At the same time, the Association entered into an internal political problem and dissociated itself from a network of rural societies in different parts of the country, which were in charge of going to the dairy farms to carry out the milk control.

The system was dissolved.

The system was dissolved. They called a rural meeting (this is a national central dairy basin) to see how we can do to promote dairy control again.

It is a very good effort, but as long as there is no policy of commitment where they say they are going to agree with the industry to establish a form of payment, so that a genetic improvement program makes sense, nothing is going to work.

Now, in order to bring back the producers who left, they need to demonstrate that their service offers a desirable benefit, for example, that it will make their product have an added value.

Exactly. It’s all economics and that’s fine! But there is so much mess in the middle that we need agreements between industry and government.

Crisis is opportunity.

We at INTA see all this mess as an opportunity. We have to accommodate to each of the producers’ needs, trying to make their system, as they see fit and according to how they are paid, sustainable, sustainable and economically profitable.

So they have to design a system for each producer.

They are all different and they all have different technologies implemented according to their economic interest. For example, the robot is beautiful, but the cost is not recovered from the point of view of the average producer in Argentina.

We can say that those who install robots do it because they like it, because it is a pampering, because it will improve the welfare of the animals, the welfare of the personnel, but economically it is not recovered.

Many things are pampering: that, putting in a breed, etc. And it is so because the industry continues to prioritize the production of liters, it does not matter what comes out of the spout as long as it is white.

They disregard it at the moment of payment, but at the moment of industrializing the milk there is a difference.

The industry buys milk at a very low price. Up to now, although it has been agreed at the national level that fat and protein are rewarded, the industries draw it as they want.

That is to say that there is a double discourse on the part of the industry.

Yes, that is so.

We need to catch up in milk quality to trade internationally.

This is happening at the same time. The world has been working for years on the genetic improvement of everything that is fat and protein, and they have production systems with an increase of these two factors because it pays.

And what else do we have to adapt to in order to keep up with our competitors?

There are technologies that we are forced to adopt because we produce to sell abroad. There is a pressure that makes us have to produce fat and protein.

That adds to all the pressure of environmental care, which is not yet a major problem for us. And while we are at it, by producing more solids in fewer gallons, we reduce the volume to be transported, and the lower the need for transportation, the lower the greenhouse gas emissions.

And we are actually one of the elite countries, in the sense that nobody has such intensive production systems in pastoral systems, as large as ours. Norway, which has agreements with INTA Argentina, is looking at us a lot, and we are looking for money so that we can measure things here, because they have the technology, but we do not have the money to invest in that technology.

Methane emissions in dairies can be managed from the nutritional part and the pasture production part, and this is one of the major concerns in our country.

Why a concern?

Because efficiency is not what we need to have. There is a whole work previous to the emission of gases in cattle for milk, which is very much determined in function of the pasture.

Yes, one can certainly manage through production. But even without considering the problem of gas emissions, the efficiency of pasture utilization is low for us. To fine-tune that is very good, but we cannot measure it because it requires technology that is not available.

We are trying to hook European countries by telling them that yes, we are going to measure gas emissions, but it is not really our priority problem. For them it is, so we are seeing if we can kill two birds with one stone.

Everything goes hand in hand. We at INTA Rafaela really have a very broad vision, which is not common in the rest of the institutions because they do not have what we have, to manage real production systems, and to have a corridor with specialties in all areas. This is fantastic, it gives us a general vision of the situation, from economists to nutritionists, reproductionists, milk quality, etc.

Now, for example, INTA’s new project portfolio is about to be put together. Our projects establish a 30-year vision and mission, and within those 30 years, 6, 8 or 10-year portfolios are established, which are projects at national and regional level.

Within these project portfolios, we receive the demands of the producers and, depending on what they need, we organize and prioritize the times in which we are going to work.

And for a producer who, for example, has never had contact with INTA, who does not know how to approach it or how to manage INTA’s collaboration for his development, what is the mechanism to request it?

There is a network of contacts (emails, whatsapp). It reaches a single place at a national level and INTA extensionists are in charge of referring it to specialists. On the other hand, INTAs generally specialize in the productions of the area. We specialize in milk. The doors are open to anyone who wants to approach us. They come, they call in case they want to be located with a particular specialist, and we attend them.

And there is also the Club Tambero Bienvenido al Club de Buenas Prácticas (clubtambero.org)

There is the Club Tambero and all the whatsapp networks.






An 85-year-old inspiration, Margaret Thompson heads into Maleny Buffalo’s dairy every day to keep her late husband Mal’s legacy alive.

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