In Luján, organic dairy farms make common agenda for growth
01 Dec 2022
A week ago, the First Meeting of Certified Organic Dairy Farmers of the country was held at La Escondida dairy farm of the Coluccio family, in the district of Luján. During the meeting they exchanged specific technical experiences of the organic farms, different approaches to face the drought and future organization of the Group.
In addition to the organic dairy farmers from the provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Entre Ríos, the mayor of Luján, Leo Botto, the OIA Certifier and journalists from various media were present. This meeting was held in a dairy basin near Luján, which today represents almost half of the certified organic milk in our country.
It was a very pioneering meeting because although the producers from Buenos Aires knew each other, it was the first meeting with organic dairy farmers from other provinces. Josefina Coluccio was the hostess of an event that gathered 14 of the 16 organic dairy farms that certify production, who told TodoAgro Radio that the first topic of the common agenda had to do with the impact of the drought in the central region.
What strategies did you discuss to mitigate the impact of the drought?
Well, one of the problems of our dairy farms is that we must provide organic feed, and although the standard allows the incorporation of silage and other feed in a certain proportion, it is one of the most important challenges we have. In our case, we are bringing alfalfa mega-bales from Córdoba and organic corn from Tucumán.
Josefina Coluccio has a degree in agricultural management and shares with her four siblings were raised in an environment of care for nature and respect for the environment. She has a sister who is a veterinarian, two biologists and the other has a degree in physics.
How did you decide to go for organic milk production?
We thought of ways to add value to the milk we produced, in a farm that has 8 kilometers of dirt roads and in many opportunities it was very difficult to get the production out. At the beginning the differential offered was not tempting but then, in 2019 the conditions were right to start with this production.
Organic milk production has its own conditions. First of all, all feed must be from regenerative agriculture, no agrochemicals or chemical fertilizers can be used, everything must be managed mechanically.
As for the animals, approaches must be curative, they must not be preventive and therefore antibiotics cannot be applied in general: an animal that gets sick must be isolated for treatment.
The other important element is that the animals must graze a good part of the day and the calf must spend three months in the guacheras drinking organic milk. “The most challenging thing for us is to go back to disc and harrow agriculture, but in any case we observed the exhaustion of the other system, the advance of resistant weeds, the abusive use of herbicides, among other things”, says Josefina Coluccio.
What are La Escondida’s numbers today?
Due to the drought, they have decreased a little: we are at 9 thousand liters with 400 v/o, with an average of 23 liters per day/cow.
La Escondida’s production is sent to the Nestlé plant, which transforms it into powdered milk for export and is marketing its classic organic Nido.
How is restocking carried out?
The replacement of animals must be from organic dairy farms and only 10% of the stock of ordinary or traditional origin is allowed. However, we are moving towards smaller and more rustic breeds and with less difficulty to integrate herds.
Josefina Colussio says that in the exchange rounds between organic producers, the question about returning to the traditional system always comes up, and she firmly points out that they conclude that no, because this system is friendlier, although it is more complicated and you have to be making decisions all the time, but it is more profitable.
The question immediately arises:
How much better compared to the $58/60 paid today for traditional milk?
It is significantly better but because of the contract we cannot account for the prices paid by the mills for our remitted organic milk.
What roadmap would you share for those who want to get started in organic milk production?
First of all, start with a herd of cows that is not very big but very healthy in terms of health. On the other hand, to have an area of production reserves for feed, and the third and most important thing is to have passion for what you do.
The view of a dairy farmer from Entre Ríos
Horacio Bauer, a dairy farmer who has been working in the industry for many years and who for some time has been dedicated to organic dairy farming in Urdinarrain, Entre Ríos, was interviewed by the website Ahora El Día and said: “we visited a dairy farm that has 400 milking cows in a 600-hectare field. It is an establishment that, like many others, is having a very bad time with the drought. The only thing there are alfalfa fields. Unfortunately, they have not been able to plant sorghum and corn. It has not rained since May and has reserves for 10 more days and they are asking the organic certifier for permission to bring feed to the dairy, since there is no organic production of mega-bale rolls and others, so they are grazing what little there is and with feed brought from outside, they are fighting day by day”.
The dairy farmer pointed out that “the same situation is occurring in the province of Córdoba with an atrocious drought; while the 4 dairy farms in Entre Ríos are doing a little better thanks to the last rains in the area”.
Regarding the dairy farm they visited in Luján, Bauer said that “they have a daily average of 24 liters and work with cows that are Holando crosses with red and white Swedish, although most of the dairy farms are incorporating Jersey and Kiwi, a New Zealand breed that is the second cross between Holando and Jersey. In organic dairies, Holando, Jersey, Montpellier, which is a French breed, Irish Holando, New Zealand Holando, and the aforementioned Kiwi are being used. Some of the dairy farms, such as the one in Luján, are in peri-urban areas where they cannot spray, and those that are not, realized at the time that with conventional dairy farming based on a pastoral system they could not survive.
The organic dairy farmer receives almost twice as much as a regular farmer, but we are also paying almost twice as much for the balanced feed that is produced in the province of Buenos Aires. It is made in a plant in Alberti, which is the only one certified with organic production”.
He recalled that in his dairy located in the old access to Urdinarrain, he works with “cows that cross Holando with Jersey. We are at 21 liters with 6 kilos of feed, 10 kilos of silage and the rest grass. Unlike dairy farms in other parts of the country, such as those already mentioned in Buenos Aires and Córdoba, we have received some rainfall and we have some pasture”.
He said that “one of the problems faced by organic dairy farms, which was discussed in Luján, is the waste from washing the corrals. What is being done and what is not being done? Some compost it, others throw grass in the milking track, after the tasks they clean it with a shovel and form a compost, they do not wash the floor. Others recycle the effluent with different pools so that the solid remains in the pool. There are also the manure trailers to spread the waste on the field”.
Organic dairy farms
The production system of these dairy farms is very pastoral, with self-produced preserved fodder without the use of transgenics or agrochemicals and with concentrates that meet the same standards. They work with a high stocking rate and crossbred cows, smaller in size, more suitable for grazing and with simpler reproductive management. Due to this higher stocking rate, although their individual productions are somewhat lower, in general they achieve a good amount of milk per hectare and with high solids, between 7.5 and 8%.
The meeting included a tour of the triple-cross cow herd, followed by a round of testimonies and news that generated a very interesting exchange, of which we highlight some aspects.