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The International Congress of Milk Producing Nations

by Bill Rowell, President
National Dairy Producers Organization
United States



  I will begin by expressing my gratitude to our friends from Argentina for demonstrating leadership in the dairy industry, for their careful attention to detail in organizing the Congreso Internacional de Productores de Leche (CIPLE) , and for their kind hospitality and friendship.

  This International Congress of Milk Producers was convened in Argentina in the City of Villa Maria, Cordoba, September 19, 2011, the two day program was repeated in Sunchales, Santa Fe, a region some 300 km distant, and concluded there on September 23'rd. In attendance were a total of 16 countries representing Latin America, North America, Europe, and Oceania, each speaker was affiliated with a notable dairy organization, and all were dairy producers. During the week, after spending much of the day in conference, we either visited farms or toured processing facilities, it was evident that each of us were preoccupied trying to assess our position in the marketplace; many of us were trying to envision an improved economic position on the  world stage, each was looking for a bright spot on the horizon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  During the tours, in stark contrast to the northeast, was the apparent lack of farm buildings. Farms there consist of a substantial tract of land, support a large herd of Holstein cattle in a warm dry climate, but require no housing for the animals; an incredible opportunity to reduce expense. However, reproduction there does represent something of a challenge, animals aren't grouped by stage of lactation or maturity. Subsequently, a system has been developed to identify animals in heat, rather than the practice of tail chalking, common to farmers in North America, a device is taped to the back of the animal which activates after 2 seconds during a mount, a signal is sent via antenna to the data base and recorded,  it is then recognized by the farmer.

  Discussion during the conference acknowledged that most milk producing nations participate in the global market, Canada being the exception, and that most use export markets to balance their milk supply with market demand. In an effort to determine what a sustainable dairy future might look like for the majority of us focus turned to the cost of production in Australia and New Zealand, and then to the projected volume of export from each of those two countries. While it is clear that everyone depends on a fair price to participate in the market, global or domestic, it is understood that being efficient is not enough, opportunity will ultimately be determined by cost of production in each respective region of the world, and driven by market demand.

  Argentina has an incredible land base very favorable for agriculture, as they participate in the global market as a milk producing nation there is uneasy recognition of global competition for their grain resources, chiefly soy, but also corn, which tends to increase their cost of producing milk. In a country with a population of 44 million people positioned close to Brazil, which also has incredible potential, the question very quickly turns to that of competitive advantage; of primary focus are cost of production, the diversity and quality of products being produced for the marketplace, suitable pricing formulas, a favorable national dairy policy, and the ever present question of sustainable practice.

  The objective of this event was to engage other milk producing nations for an exchange of information, evaluate their policies and practice, identify those preferred, and create a system under which the production and marketing of milk would prove favorable over current practice. This event engaged political leaders from the local Mayor up to the National Minister of Agriculture, it engaged the producer, the processor, and the milk handler, it also challenged everyone in attendance to take responsibility for their role as it pertains to the dairy industry.

   Most countries, but not all, are capable of producing enough food to sustain the needs of their population, many produce food well beyond that need, as we compete with one another for a share of the global market we begin to understand that an oversupply of any commodity on the market causes price to deteriorate.  Many of the countries in attendance recognize the need for a management tool which encourages producing for market demand, but also one that is capable of reducing supply as markets recede. Presently, the United States is involved in an effort to design and implement a management tool along those lines, it is a priority for us here in the states to reduce volatility in the dairy industry, but more specifically, to address the issue of sustainability in the producer sector. We have recently introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress, it is our hope to move the industry forward along the lines of reason and common sense, but since dairy producers have  failed to agree on a solution, we have enlisted the help of our congressional delegates.

   Although we came to this event from many places around the world, and recognized one another as competitors, each appeared to hold the other in high regard as friend, in fact, I do not recall anyone at the conference I would consider otherwise. Wish us the best for our effort here in the states as we work toward an improved future, on behalf of our friend Doug Maddox and myself, we offer each of you kind regards.

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CONTACT :  billrowell@billrowell.org