‘Look beyond the seas and learn’... - Veterinary Practice
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‘Look beyond the seas and learn’…

RICHARD GARD attended an IDF open day at the laboratories of the Cattle Information Service where there were papers on topics from improved nutrition to environmental impact

THE UK section of the International Dairy Federation (IDF) recently held an open day at the laboratories of the Cattle Information Service in Telford. Over 50 delegates attended from organisations involved throughout the food chain. The Nottingham, Bristol and Liverpool universities represented veterinary interests.

At a time when closer liaison between milk buyers, processors, retailers, dairy farmers and veterinary practices is being talked up, an opportunity was presented to engage in the many issues, originating on-farm, that are of concern to the whole industry.

Dr Judith Bryans, who chairs UKIDF and is director of the Dairy Council, highlighted the important recognition of improved nutritional dairy protein values. For many years the nutritional value of dairy protein has been disadvantaged by outdated methodology. One of the benefits of the IDF is access to the standardsetting bodies.

Emphasis is placed by the IDF on “nutrient-rich dairy products and health”. In addition to the health benefits, emphasis is placed on dairy foods forming part of an “environmentally friendly diet”. These strong messages are supported by factsheets and other publications.

Jim Begg, director general of Dairy UK, reviewed the global dairy market. Collation of information around the world for 2012 showed a drop in milk production in the UK of 5% and Ireland of 8%, with other European countries showing little change. New Zealand increased production by over 9% but drought conditions are expected to reduce production for the first half of 2013.

Throughout the EU weather and high feed prices are continuing to inhibit milk volumes. Mr Begg noted that a number of large milk producing units in the USA have gone out of business. Taking a global view, demand for milk is up, prices are level and supply is down.

One of the outstanding issues following contamination scares (including horse meat and aflatoxins) is that dilution, as a means of reducing risk, is not acceptable.

Retailers worldwide are positioning themselves as the “farmers friend”, he said. Supply management measures are being proposed within the EU, with quotas scheduled to be abolished in 2015. In the USA, insurance and other measures have been proposed to guarantee a margin for the farmers.

UK neutral

Jim Begg clearly stated that: “Farmers don’t want supply management, it cannot be done successfully and farmers need to pay attention to supply contracts.” An optimism chart for each country shows the UK as being neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

Exports are not necessarily profitable but lay down potential for the future. China is known to have a shortage of milk, particularly milk of a quality to be fed to children and this market could become important for UK farmers.

Dr Delanie Kellon, technical officer for environment and sustainability at IDF Brussels, demonstrated that 80% of the environmental impact of dairy takes place on the farm (feed, energy, fertiliser). An environmental strategy is being developed by the IDF and the results of a stakeholders’ survey will be discussed at the world conference later this year.

The current guidance on carbon foot-printing is being updated with the latest science and data to provide a comparative global assessment.

Aligned with this is a methodology for water foot-printing, which provides a lifecycle assessment including water quantity and quality. An expert workshop is planned to develop a framework for biodiversity assessment on farm and to review the pros and cons of different methods and available data.

Innovative practices for ecofriendly dairy processing take account of resource use efficiency and the utilisation of processing waste for biogas, she said. More experts are needed to understand the problems and find solutions.

A guide to “prudent use of antimicrobial agents in dairy production” is available which complements the good dairy farming practice framework for on-farm quality assurance.

One of the interesting areas is the impact of dairying on the sustainability of rural communities. Figures from Africa indicate that five jobs are created for every 100 litres of milk produced. More is likely to be heard about GDDA (Global Dairy Agenda for Action) whose signatories account for 86% of global milk production.

An important element is the ability to influence policy and regulations before they are finalised, rather than having to react to policies already drawn up. Contributions from individuals and organisations, particularly concerning climate change and sustainability, are requested and a facility to interact is available through the website via a green paper.

The value of “looking beyond the seas and learn” was emphasised by Julia Hawley, a dairy farmer in Leicestershire, drawing on her experience of attending conferences overseas.

Common issues

She reviewed the different labour and facilities available in various countries and put forward six observations: the success of niche products; consumer sophistication; you can spend a lot of money and get things very wrong; staffing is key; there are good and bad farmers the world over; dairy farmers face common issues the world over. Julia enthused about the benefits of involvement with the IDF, not least that “we all love visiting other dairy farms and looking at cows”.

A tour of the laboratory facilities showed various analysers and the latest developments in on-line reporting from the milk recorder on-farm before the samples reach the lab. Up to 30,000 milk samples are received each day with the usual range of disease monitoring from individual and bulk milk samples. A new initiative is the routine pregnancy test.

Also demonstrated, with the help of Ben Yates and two cows from Wyndford Holsteins, was a type scoring and linear assessment by Michael Parkinson of Holstein UK. The scores of cows can be uploaded on-farm and viewed by the farmer together with the field officer. The selection of suitable bulls follows.

The point was made that it takes one minute to put a straw into a cow and a lifetime to manage problems. Lucy Andrews Norden presented the collection and use of data within the better breeding equals better business promotion. Genetic components for susceptibility to disease (e.g. digital dermatitis) are being studied.

The benefits from milk recording were considered by Tove Asmussen of Raw Milk Connect, with emphasis on the breeding aspects and analysis of feeding and management changes.

Benefits are seen when the producer acts on the information. Best results are achieved with performance information from single cows.

Room for improvement

The objective is to set up the farmer with accurate information on which he can make decisions.

New forms of analysis are available but there is plenty of room for improvement in the use of existing parameters.

The meeting was sponsored by Foss UK. Many of the machines and laboratory equipment are supplied and supported by the company and Andy Carr, industry sales manager, emphasised the role of bench-top and in-line analysis.

There has been an increase in inline analysis with different sample interfaces to suit the product. Milk and milk products have changing constituents during processing and real-time monitoring allows process variations to be monitored and controlled more rapidly.

The application of mid infrared spectroscopy to detect milk adulteration is being applied as organic adulterants absorb infrared. Whether the unwanted substance addition is accidental or intentional, there is an international desire to protect the quality of dairy products.

This was an interesting grouping of people with expertise and it may be that there are opportunities for veterinary surgeons in dairy practice to share their knowledge and influence developments.

  • The IDF World Dairy Summit is being held in Yokohama, Japan, at the end of October: for details see www.wds2013.com/eng/. Membership of the IDF is open to individuals as well as organisations and full information on current initiatives is available on www.fil-idf.org.

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