Farm forward

By Song Shengxia in Tel Aviv Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-8 20:18:01

Can China learn from Israel’s agricultural advances?

Israel has become a dairy farming superpower, with the highest annual milk yield per cow in the world. The success of Israel's dairy industry is largely due to widespread use of advanced farm management systems, the unique structure of the farms and rational planning. China is hoping to adopt some of these methods for its own dairy sector. This is the first of two parts on Israel's achievements in agriculture and the prospects for its cooperation with China.

A worker at Hof HaSharon dairy farm detaches equipment after milking of a cow has finished. Photo: Song Shengxia/GT

On a typical cool and sunny Mediterranean morning in late January, Daniel Hojman, a 64-year-old senior consultant for dairy farming at Afimilk, proudly led a tour group of foreign visitors around the Hof HaSharon dairy farm near Tel Aviv, a major city in Israel. 

The farm uses a management system provided by Afimilk, an Israeli company that specializes in dairy herd management.

The 38-year-old company was the first to adopt electronic milk meters in 1979, the first to create a dairy farm management system in 1993, and the first to introduce a wireless cow activity monitoring system in 2013.

The cow activity monitoring system allows collection of important data about each individual cow, giving farmers real-time information about the animal's health, fertility, milk quality and productivity. 

The system works via leg tags attached to each cow to monitor their behavior.

"If a cow stays lying down for a long time, it may suggest the cow has become sick," Hojman said.

Early notice of such symptoms means farmers can address the problem quickly.

The data is collected in two ways - in the milking parlor three times a day and through Wi-Fi every 15 minutes, said Hojman.  

The farm has 1,000 milking cows and also 800 heifers. The milk output at the farm in 2014 was 12,706 kilograms per cow per year, far higher than the world average of less than 3,000 kilograms per cow per year, Hojman noted. 

Local advantages

Almost 60 percent of Israel's dairy farms are located on Kibbutzim, the country's well-known collective communes.

The cooperative ownership allows farmers to share their knowledge and best practices and improve efficiency, analysts said. 

Reforms of the dairy industry were introduced in Israel between 1997 and 2007 to encourage dairy producers to become larger and more efficient, and to prevent pollution.

The number of dairy farms was reduced by 30 percent, environmental infrastructure was established and cowsheds were upgraded.

In order to balance supply and demand and stabilize prices to ensure profitability, the country's Dairy Board set yearly production quotas for dairy farms depending on their size, while the government controlled the prices. 

With the widespread use of automated management systems, the unique structure of its dairy farms and rational planning, Israel has become one of the world's leading countries in terms of modern dairy farming management and is recognized for its high yield.

The annual average for milk production in Israel has reached 11,770 kilograms per cow per year, compared with 9,500 to 10,000 kilograms per cow per year in other countries with developed dairy farming industries such as the US, Hojman said.

In terms of nutritional quality, the percentage of fat and protein in the milk has risen to more than 3.66 percent and 3.24 percent, while the annual fat and protein yield per cow in Israel is more than 765 kilograms, the highest in the world, according to Israel's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

The dairy sector supplies more than 80 percent of the country's dairy needs, and future production potential will greatly exceed domestic needs, according to MARD. 

Demonstration farm

The success of Israel's dairy sector has caught the attention of other countries and regions that are seeking to enhance productivity and efficiency in their own domestic dairy industries, including China.

Back in 2001, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement to establish a demonstration dairy farm in Beijing using Israeli technology.

A farm owned by the then Beijing Sanyuan Group - now merged and restructured into Beijing Capital Agribusiness Group (CAG) - was rebuilt according to Israel's technological standards and with Israel providing a milk parlor that uses the Afimilk management system, feeding equipment and training.

Hojman was one of the three experts Israel sent to China to assist the local team.

Stationed in China between 2007 and 2009, Hojman helped bring the milk yield at the farm to a level similar to that in Israel.

By the end of 2007, the average milk production at the farm had exceeded 10,000 kilograms per cow per year, compared with an average level of 6,000 kilograms in China, according to Qiao Lü, COO of Beijing Shounong Livestock Development Co, which is owned by CAG.  

Production at the farm has now reached an average of 11,650 kilograms per cow per year, Qiao said.

Regarded as one of China's most efficient dairy farms, it also serves as a training center for thousands of dairy producers in China and neighboring countries.  

What China can learn

In addition to learning about more advanced farming technology, China's dairy industry can also adopt Israel's culture of attention to detail in cow management, said Song Liang, a Beijing-based dairy industry expert.

Israel's success has also shown the importance of maintaining a proper scale of farms, as well as the key role of farmers in the industrial chain, Song told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Industry insiders have said that dairy farming in China is fragmented and the farms are often quite small-scale.

This outdated industrial structure prevents farmers from becoming major players in the dairy production chain, and also means they have little bargaining power with the dairy companies they supply.

There have been recent cases in China of dairy farmers dumping their milk as they could not sell it.

The country's dairy industry has also been hit by falling prices and rising feed costs.

"Dairy farming efficiency cannot be improved unless the industrial structure is upgraded and the professional level of farmers is raised and they are given a bigger role in the industrial chain," Song said.

The dairy market in China is very promising, since the country's economic development means that large sections of the population are consuming more dairy products, Hojman noted.

"But there is still a long way to go, since many farms are producing milk in a very inefficient way. China must upgrade the way farms are managed, especially in ways that relate to feeding, health, fertility, the grouping of animals, and their comfort," he said.

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