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Extension agronomists visit China

Dec. 27, 2012 | 0 comments


China is a country about the same size as the United States. With a population of about four times that of the United States, they have only about one-third of the tillable land for raising food.

During the last couple of years China has begun investing heavily in its dairy industry. Currently, they claim to have 14.3 million dairy animals (calves, heifers and cows) compared to 9.1 million dairy animals in the U.S.

Dan Undersander and Joe Lauer, both agronomists with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, have been to that country several times during the last year to help these inexperienced dairy farmers understand how to raise forages that will help their cows produce more milk.

The two scientists told members of the Fond du Lac County Forage Council last week that it will be a long time before China becomes a threat to the U.S. dairy industry.

They say average annual production per cow in China is less than half of that in the U.S. and finding an adequate feed supply will continue to be a challenge for many years to come.

Undersander says, "They can’t produce enough milk to supply their own people."


He talked about the challenges of raising forage, sanitation issues, food safety and milk quality problems, cattle diseases and manure management.

He said lack of education about how to produce quality milk is a real problem and those who are in management positions on the farms are hungry for knowledge.

"In general they have good dairy management but they don’t know anything about forage and putting up quality feed on a large scale," he said.

During the agronomists’ five visits to the country they saw many dairy farms.

The new farms range in size from 8000 cows to 40,000 cows, however, Undersander says he doubts the farms are filled to capacity as the government would like U.S. dairy producers to believe.

They found the new dairy farms to be vertically integrated, bottling milk and producing a variety of dairy products on site.

They have good facilities and well-trained staff. Since labor is inexpensive they also have plenty of employees to handle the manual labor on the farms.

The barns have sand-filled stalls and buildings are ventilated with fans and water-cooled systems. Parlors are equipped with U.S. made equipment.


Most of their corn silage is locally grown, and they buy most of their alfalfa from California.

Undersander points out, "They (China) are selling so many products to the U.S. and they are looking for something to haul back in the ships. It costs less to ship alfalfa from California than it costs to move it from the alfalfa-growing regions of their country to the dairies."

He said China does not have a good highway system for transporting feed from one region to another.

Hay that is grown in China is generally grown on smaller fields and taken to a central collection point where it is sorted according to quality. He visited a collection point that cubed the hay and then distributed it to farms.

While they try to raise all the corn silage for their rations, Lauer points out that most of the feed does not have much grain in it.

One reason is that the people living in the villages near the fields where it is grown are hungry and steal the cobs just before harvest. The only way to harvest the feed without the loss of cobs is to harvest at 70 percent or more moisture and then they have problems with the feed juicing and running off the piles.

In rural areas the families who operate very small farms are trying to raise alfalfa for their sheep to graze but they only turn the animals onto the pasture once a day so animals do not gain very well.

Undersander says the farmers must stay with their sheep in the pasture so they cannot leave them out longer. If they do not stay with the sheep the villagers steal the animals.

Lauer and Undersander helped a dairy large farm develop a 70-acre field of corn silage.

The government owns all the land but leases it to farmers. The investor in this large farm acquired a long-term lease by displacing about 40 small farmers who had been running small parcels of the land.

As a result, the new operator constructed a concrete block wall around the perimeter of the field to keep the villagers out. The construction of the road and wall resulted in compacted soil.

The agronomists taught the new farm operators how to improve production, beginning with testing the soil.

They predict fertility will be a problem since manure is the only fertilizer available and at this time, they are not making the best use of their manure as a fertilizer.

In fact, they saw areas where it ran out of the manure pit and flowed into roadside ditches.

The wealthy farm investor purchased a full line of modern equipment including three Claas forage choppers, however, fields are as far away as 20 miles and they do not cover the loads so much of the feed is lost before it gets to the bunkers.

Their trucks are small and it takes 10,000 truckloads (3 ton each) to deliver enough feed for the bunker. It takes a month to complete the job.

On farms where alfalfa is grown they use modern big square balers but they have not been trained about how to use them and were not aware of the availability of acid to preserve the bale quality.

Much of their hay molded because they baled it too green without preservative.

The two agronomists plan one more visit to China to provide advice on improving forages. They say it is beneficial to help these farms since many of their cows are from U.S. genetics and they purchase a lot of U.S. hay, many U.S. supplies and equipment.

They also see many other problems that China is facing including air pollution in the cities.

He said in some cities it is so bad that traffic is limited by allowing vehicles with odd number license plates to drive one day and those with odd numbers can drive the next day.

Cities continue to grow and sometimes new cities are started just to handle the hundreds of thousands of rural people who are moving from the villages to the cities in search of work.

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