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Israel helps transform China’s dairy industry

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Friday, March 30th, 2012

As reported in Israel21c:

Cow milk is a fairly recent addition to the Chinese diet. But demand for milk products has grown so quickly that existing farms can barely meet it. So Chinese dairy companies are turning to the acknowledged authority on the milking business: Israel.

Eight Chinese dairy farm manager trainees recently completed an 11-week course in Israel organized by AfiMilk, a world leader in computerized systems for dairy farm and herd management.

The six men and two women were sent by their employer to get acquainted with AfiMilk’s software, visit productive Israeli farms and milking parlors, and learn about advanced animal welfare and operating procedures.

The course, held at the Galilee International Management Institute from November 6 to January 20, garnered such positive feedback that a second Chinese dairy company sent a team for training in February and March.

“Israeli dairy farming is highly considered all over the world for its high production per cow,” says Pinhas Gur, head of professional services at AfiMilk.

AfiMilk’s Pinhas Gur, left with Charles Zhou, general manager for AfiMilk China.

The kibbutz-based company’s staff of 15 in Beijing has helped plan and equip 105 milking parlors in China. Compared to the average Chinese milk yield per cow of 5,000 to 6,000 liters per year, farms using AfiMilk technologies average 11,500 liters per year.

Caring for the cows

It all began with a demonstration dairy farm set up near Beijing in 2001 by Israel’s MASHAV agency for international development to show off the latest Israeli technology.

Now on par with Israel’s most efficient dairy farms, the demo site serves as a training center for thousands of dairy producers in China and from neighboring countries.

A former dairyman himself, the New York-born Gur knows that boosting milk production has everything to do with cow care — what they eat and how they’re handled. He devised the syllabus for the first Chinese training session with that focus in mind.

“About two-thirds of the lectures were given by our people, and we also brought in a lot of top Israeli experts to talk about [bovine] diseases and nutrition. So they got training in our system and gained good animal husbandry knowledge as well,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

The Chinese trainees learned about bovine nutrition from Israeli experts.

The lecturers spoke in English, with Chinese Israeli residents or students available to translate. All the reading materials for the course were translated into Chinese by AfiMilk staffers in Beijing.

Israeli expertise

Gur relates that four of the first group of trainees had already completed three years of veterinary studies in China, while the other four had taken a few courses and worked on a dairy farm. Each one earned an individualized diploma from AfiMilk.

“Unlike other courses, where we give a general certificate at the end, this time each student was certified for a specific job, like managing fertility, managing health or managing baby calves,” says Gur.

All expenses were covered by their employer, Mengniu, including a year of follow-up support by an AfiMilk adviser in China.

Computerized and hands-on herd management were covered in the course.

Mengniu, the second biggest milk processor in China, first contacted AfiMilk’s Beijing office for assistance in building milking parlors. “When they found out what else we can provide, like managing dairy farms in Vietman and teaching local farm managers, they proposed sending their future farm managers to Israel,” says Gur.

He chose to run the course at Galilee because of its experience hosting agriculture classes provided by the Israeli government for people from African and Asian countries. “They provide work permits, insurance and visas, and they have dorms where the students can stay,” he says.

The course covered all issues relating to herd management and monitoring: cow and heifer health, cow behavior, fat and protein levels in the milk and immediate solutions for problems that can arise during milking.

Milk consumption is still low in China compared to Israel or to Western countries, but that is likely to change fast with the help of Israeli ingenuity.