Evolution of milk production systems in Tropical Latin America and its interrelationship with markets : An analysis of the Colombian case
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The objectives were to: (1) identify and quantify the effect of technological change on productivity, profitability, and competitiveness in different milk production systems and regions of the country; (2) analyze the relationship between productivity, technological change, profitability, and competitiveness; (3) analyze the evolution of milk production systems in Colombia; and (4) discuss the market concentration and its impact on the formation of milk price. Data came from a survey to 545 farms during the year 2000 in five regions: Caribbean and Piedmont in the lowlands, Coffee Growing, Antioquia, and the Cundiboyacense altiplanicie in the highlands. The survey was designed to quantify inputs and products in order to determine costs and prices at the farm level in order to calculate (a) variable costs for feed supplementation, labor, health, reproduction, fertilization, and irrigation; (b) gross income from the sale of milk and beef, and (c) to characterize farms according to productivity level and management practices. The statistical analysis of multiple correspondence and general linear models were used to explain the variability observed between productivity and profitability as a function of technological change. Independent of the production system or the region where farms were located, the increase in competitiveness was in direct relationship with herd size. Thus, as herd size increased, production costs per unit of milk and beef decreased, net incomes per cow increased, and the return to capital investment improved. However, when this increase in competitiveness was associated with increases in productivity, this trend was not observed, which suggested that highly productive farms were not necessarily competitive. The dual-purpose system was the most profitable one in the Piedmont, Caribbean, and Coffee growing regions while in Antioquia and in the Cundiboyacense altiplanicie the most profitable was the specialized dairy system. With regards to technological change, the adoption of improved pastures and the investment in pasture divisions for a more efficient rotation generated higher productivity and income in all regions and production systems, as well as increased competitiveness through a reduction in production costs per unit of milk and beef. The use of strategic feed supplementation to the basal diet of forage had mixed effects. The best economic response to this supplementation in lowland regions (i.e., Piedmont and Caribbean) was with low quantities (i.e., < 0.5 kg DM/cow/day) of feed supplements while in highland regions (i.e., Coffee Growing area, Antioquia and the Cundiboyacense altiplanicie) was with moderate quantities (i.e., between 0.5 and 2 kg DM/cow/day). The use of fertilization and irrigation increased productivity, but reduced net income and increased production costs, except in the Cundiboyacense altiplanicie. The practice of milking twice a day increased both productivity and profitability and reduced production costs, except in the Caribbeanregion. Farms that de-wormed milking cows with low frequency against internal and external parasites obtained higher incomes and lower production costs in comparison with farms that de-wormed cows with higher frequency although there were no differences in productivity. The amount of years of experience of farmers at producing milk was a key factor to increase profits, although not productivity. Farms located in sites where the commercial value of land was high (>US$6,000/ha) and near market centers had higher productivity that those with commercial value of land medium ($3,000 to $6,000/ha) and low (<$3,000/ha) but were less profitable in all regions. Box 1: Recommendations to researchers and extensionists Identify profitable technologies. Technologies that increase productivity are not necessarily profitable, which suggest the need to determine appropriate ways to evaluate them economically. This was the case of fertilization and irrigation. It is necessary to determine the best economic response to various levels of N2 and H2O to different species of improved grasses under various soil types and conditions. The most competitive and profitable breed group in the dual-purpose system was the crossbred with low (24% European-76% Zebu genes) and medium levels of dairy genes (55% European-45% Zebu genes) but had lower productivity than the purebred group (98% European genes). In the specialized dairy system, the purebred group was slightly more profitable, productive and competitive than the crossbred group with medium level of dairy genes, but this difference was not significant. The Colombian dairy sector has become more productive and competitive, but less profitable. Comparing the evolution of dairy farms with studies 12 years ago, milk production per hectare increased by 44% in dual-purpose herds and 14% in specialized dairies. This increase in productivity reduced the milk production cost by 16% and 10% in dual-purpose and specialized dairies, respectively, due to an increase in stocking rate by 15% and 17% in dual-purpose and specialized dairies as well as to an increase in investment in infrastructure and equipment by 258% and 37% in dual-purpose and specialized dairies, respectively. However, the net income per hectare during this period decreased by 27% and 69% in dual-purpose and specialized dairies due to a reduction in the producer's price of milk and beef of 22% and 20% in dual-purpose systems, and of 41% and 27% in specialized dairies. Nevertheless, this reduction in price to producers was never translated in lower prices to consumers, but remained in the hands of supermarkets and milk processing plants which expanded and modernized with long-life technology. Development agencies must internalize the fact that policies oriented to markets will be increasingly "oriented to supermarkets". If one adds that in Colombia exists 3 or 4 supermarket chains that control the food retail market, the conclusion is that sectoral policies will need to learn how to deal with a handful of giant companies. This in a huge challenge, and demands an urgent review of ideas and strategies. Box 2: Recommendations to decision makers Regionalize research. Due to the fact that the most profitable production systems are region-specific, Colombia should have different strategies for research and technology transfer in order to exploit more efficiently the comparative advantages of each region and production system. Promote collective action. It is necessary to promote cooperatives and associations to help small producers to adapt to new patterns with higher levels of competition. Otherwise, the new rules of the game could induce a massive exodus of producers in the short term and in a relatively brief period of time. It is possible, in the short run, to adopt technologies that increase milk productivity and reduce production costs while profits are reduced as a result of falling real prices as occurred in Colombia during the 90's. However, in the long run, this situation is simply unsustainable. The proposals and challenges presented in this case study have illustrated the problems and opportunities of the dairy sector in Colombia. However, these systems could represent similar situations in other countries of Latin America. Given the phenomenon of globalization and higher degree of efficiency that these systems are being exposed to, the issues of productivity, technological change, competitiveness, and markets, are critical and of enormous relevance for the performance and survival of the livestock sector in the next decades. Box 3: Recommendations to producers Without research there is no future. Efficiency goes hand in hand with technology and this depends on research and technology transfer. However, public funds allocated to agricultural research are being reduced. The challenge consists that producers in Colombia take greater control of livestock research by building alliances with local, regional and international organizations leaders in forage and livestock research. For this it is necessary that producers define and fund their own research agenda. Production-to-consumption participation. In the coming years, producers cannot limit themselves to participate only in the primary phase of production, but to expand their scope of action to other phases of the market chain to have a higher participation in the formation of milk prices and to capture a greater piece of the final price.
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