In Huanchilla, La Juanita and Doña Leonor milk “organic” milk
06 Mar 2021
In these establishments it is produced without the use of agrochemicals or hormones. Know how much they produce, with what quality, how much they are paid and why they are adding other breeds in addition to the Holando.
Daniel Oberto and Juan Peluso are two dairy farmers from the south of Cordoba with a vast trajectory. The former has led the La Juanita establishment for 30 years, located in Huanchilla, where it has 90 heads in milking. The second headed a dairy between 1993 and 2005, and resumed activity in 2019, when he rented the Doña Leonor field, with 180 cows, also in the peri-urban area of that town in the Juárez Celman department.
Two years ago they saw the opportunity to change the paradigms of production and embark on the adventure of following a trend that is growing worldwide: that of consumers who demand food made in more environmentally friendly conditions.
“I have 180 hectares, of which 130 are two thousand meters from the town and the other 50, almost inside the ejido. That is why it was already very difficult for me to spray. Two years ago, the Nestlé company came, which has a project to commercialize organic milk, and from there I began to work together with them to make the transition to this type of production, ”says Oberto.
“In total, Nestlé already has 17 organic dairy farms that provide milk, of which 10 are from Córdoba and we were among the first to join in 2019,” Peluso completes.
Strictly speaking, it is worth clarifying that these establishments still do not have the organic seal, because the certification carried out by the company Organización Internacional Agropecuaria (OIA) requires a period of two years of “transition” from the traditional model to the new system more “Natural” or “ecological”.
“After the first year of work, we made the first certification last November, and the seal is for the transition to organic milk. When we certify again, at the end of this year, it will be 100 percent organic. This is so because a period of two years is considered until the fields are completely free of phytosanitary products and a completely natural operation can be consolidated, ”explains Peluso.
When commenting on the changes imposed by this different way of producing, Oberto has no doubt: the most relevant is the impossibility of applying agricultural defensive products. “Weed competition is tremendous. You have to fight it with tools and in this area we have light fields, with a lot of sand, that we run the risk of being blown away if we remove them a lot. It is a change in management, we learn again ”, he mentions.
For Peluso, the key is to hold the hand of the times; for example, prepare the batches before and plant when the organic matter is already degraded. “It is a different challenge, finding the management so that the field does not fill with weeds, and it is a process that will take years,” he acknowledges.
In any case, it highlights that there are already some improvements in fertility. “Cows can never be confined. When they go back to the field, they yawn and urinate and that restores fertility. It is impressive how it helps the crop to deal with weeds, ”he explains.
While the cows’ diet is grass-based, that doesn’t mean it can’t be supplemented with grains. The only requirement is that both the corn and the balanced corn must also be organic; that is to say, having been produced without agrochemicals and not being transgenic.
That poses an additional challenge. In this area of Córdoba, the usual is for corn to yield more than 80 quintals per hectare. The hybrids that Oberto implanted in the last season, without chemical treatment, produced half. “In all, it is not a bad number, it is what we expected, until we get a good grip on the ground,” says the producer.
Peluso, meanwhile, also has another field of 280 hectares certified with organic production and where he raises the heifers.
Another requirement to certify is that it is not allowed to use artificial means to force processes that have their natural logic on animals. For example, it is forbidden to use drying knobs to make a cow “empty”. The strategy is to milk her only once a day and not twice, until she stops producing.
Maximiliano Constantino is the veterinarian who advises both establishments. He adds that medications or antibiotics can only be applied when there is a risk of life to the animal. The use of hormones for the management of reproductive physiology is also not allowed; for example, to synchronize the heat.
“The only ‘unnatural’ thing to do is inseminate. For veterinarians, this is also a paradigm shift: we are used to doing supportive treatments with serums, analgesics or anti-inflammatories; here everything is registered and they are only allowed in an extreme case to save the life of the specimen ”, he adds.
In any case, he remarks that as the animal is more loose and free, with natural food, it suffers less stress and the incidence of diseases is greatly reduced.
Reinforcement of new breeds
On the other hand, in an organic approach, the production per cow is lower than in a conventional one. Oberto and Peluso are extracting about 20 liters per day, against a traditional average of between 25 and 30 liters.
The advantage is that Nestlé pays a value that is 40 percent above the market average. But the contract also provides that the raw material must maintain very good quality standards: approximately 3.3 grams of protein and 3.25 grams of fat per 100 milliliters of milk.
To reach these levels, one of the strategies is to incorporate new dairy breeds. “I was 100 percent Holando and I’m adding Jersey cows, which achieve a better percentage of protein and fat,” says Oberto.
Peluso is doing the same, but with examples of Sueca Roja and Blanca. “They are more rustic, they have more aptitude for grazing,” he describes.
These innovations are not simple, because the organic production scheme does not allow the purchase of pregnant heifers, but they have to be served or inseminated in the establishment. Likewise, in the case of bringing animals from abroad, you cannot replace more than 10 percent of your own specimens per year.