The last leg of or Global Focus Programme (GFP) took us to the USA in mid June. We landed in Washington DC and then headed out to California for a week.
We landed in Washington DC, with the other two GFP groups which had also been travelling at the same time. This was a great opportunity to visit the capital of the USA; visiting the US Department of Agriculture, we also had the chance to learn some more about trade and agriculture in the USA, and a strike of luck to catch a glimpse of the big man with the funny hair!!
We had the opportunity to meet Senator Carper, the Senator of Delaware, and another cause to visit the Australian Embassy.
The three groups then split ways again and our group headed to Fresno, California. In the baking 43˚C heat it was hard going at times!!
The biggest issue over in California, as I’m sure everyone is aware, is water. I, however, had no idea of the current issues facing farmers over there and the systems in place to try and overcome periods of droughts. This was a completely new thinking process for me, especially coming from Wales where water is in plentiful supply and the issue we have is that the ground is saturated in water most of the time!
During our time there we had the opportunity to visit Westlands Water District and Westchester Group Investment Management, who gave us an insight into the way they move water around California.
In Fresno, where we were based, the annual rain fall was 180mm, this means Californian agriculture is dependent on the snow packs from the Rocky Mountains which melts and run down the rivers into the base of California. This water is diverted through into deltas near San Francisco and 2 major water ways; the state project and the federal project, send the water south to the agricultural crops, with many huge reservoirs storing water on the way. Water is then sold in acre feet to farmers, the price dependant on the allocation of water that is available.
California has been through a period of drought over the last two years, due to the lack of snow fall in 2014 and 2015. This has meant that zero allocation was given to farmers to irrigate their crops and the reservoirs ran dry. Farmers could only rely on ground water through their boreholes, however with the water table being lowered 75’ in the last 30 years – this is not sustainable; huge areas of land were left fallow during this time.
Due to the record amount of snowfall during their last winter, reservoirs are now full again. However, more and more water is now going straight out to the sea instead, as the reservoir capacity is full and this is seen as a waste of fresh water. Building more reservoirs might be a future solution but for now what can they do with all this excess water?
One solution adopted by many farmers this year is to flood irrigate their crops, mainly the nut and grape plantations, with up to 14-15’ of water over the season in the hope that this water will filter through the ground and refill the aquifers. I may be wrong, but I always thought that ground water took decades (if not closer to a century) to filter through to the aquifers!
With California being the biggest dairy state in the US and also dairy being the biggest agricultural industry in the state, I was looking forward to getting on some dairies! With the average herd size of the state being 1300 cows, these were going to be some units! During our time we visited 2 dairies, below is some information.
Clauss Dairy – A Jersey farm with 3 units with a total of 5150 cows in herd, the unit we saw had 2000 cows in the herd.
- 2,000 in herd AYR
- 3x Milking
- 50 point Rotary
- Cows in groups of 200- 45 minutes from leaving the pen, to being milked and back in the pen
- 69 lb/day- 31.4kg milk/day
- 7% BF 4.0% P- 2.7kg milk solids/day
- Milk Urea 100 – Low Protein Diets
- Sold milk to Hilmar Cheese
- 27% Preg rate
- Youngstock reared in Texas
- 20-21 month age at first calving
Maddox Dairy – High Genetic Merit Holstein Cows, exporting embryos around the world and progeny testing bulls. Also growing 1600 acres almonds and 2000 acres of wine grapes.
- 3900 cows in herd AYR
- 4300 following heifers
- 1300 young bulls
- 3x milking
- 4x 26/26 herringbone parlours
- 89 lb/day- 40.5kg milk/day
- 51% BF 3.16% P- 2.7kg milk solids/day
- 26% Preg rate
- Feed TMR 4x day
The biggest issues both dairies faced was heat stress – ventilation through using fans and water sprinklers in the parlour and feed bunk were used to cool cows down, however there were still huge losses in production associated with hot days.
Nuts and grapes plays a huge part in the agricultural industry in California and almonds, after dairy, is the 2nd biggest Californian agricultural industry. Almonds are a very thirsty crop and require 6 acre ft a year of water – it takes 1.1 gallons (5 litres) of water to produce one almond nut!! With 80% of the world’s almonds grown in California, they are putting huge pressure on the regions water resources.
We were lucky enough to visit Harry’s Ranch Feed Lot whilst we were in Coalinga, in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Harry’s Ranch is a well-known beef brand selling in supermarkets and marketing their own beef through steak houses and hotels.
This was the 4th largest beef feed lot in the USA carrying 120,000 head of stock on one site. Slaughtering 1,100/head/day in a local slaughter house solely for them. Holsteins and native breeds, predominantly Angus were finished on the site as either steers or heifers.
Cattle came onto the site on average at around 14 months, and were on the site for 120 days before slaughter. Stock was bought from video auctions and by bringing them in from contract rearers.
The native breeds were targeting 1200lb (544kg) at slaughter and were doing 3.7lb(1.67kg)/day, DLWG doing a feed efficiency of DM to kg of live weight at 6.25:1. The Holsteins were aiming for 1350lb live weight at slaughter and these were doing 2.7lb(1.2kg)/day, with a FCR of 7.25:1.
The biggest issue they faced on the feed lot again was heat stress, and the main health issues on the yard was respiratory disease due to the dust. Water through sprinklers was used to cool the cattle down but more than anything keep the dust down, however this meant that 1.2 million gallons of water was used every day. All from the borehole!
During our time in California, I didn’t see a single sheep, and when I was told we were going to visit a Lamb Processing plant I was very surprised. This was the newest lamb processing plant in the world and carried out 39% of USA lamb kill, slaughtering 260,000 head/year.
The USA look for a big lamb carcass, demanding a 75lb carcass weight lamb – targeting 34kg dead weight!! Using predominantly Dorset, Hampshire and Suffolk genetics to get these heavy lean lambs. The USA sheep industry is some way behind and at the minute only producing 1.1 lambs per ewes mated.
The US population on average eat 0.5kg of lamb per year with a third of the population only trying it once or twice and another third having never eaten lamb at all. There is a huge potential to grow the global lamb market in the USA by getting people to try lamb and make sure they have a great eating experience when they do. But by killing big, older mature lambs, is this giving the global lamb market a good name? Possibly, as genetics and breeding improve and more lambs are produced per ewe, they will drop the demanded carcass weight and educate consumers with a higher quality product.
The end of the GFP
The global focus programme came to an end a few weeks ago, it was an amazing 6 weeks travelling the globe from Asia, through Europe and then onto the States, it has really opened my eyes to different agricultural activities across the world and it will definitely take some time to process all the information we have learnt.
Our group was great and we had some good fun along the way, below is a photo of us in Yosemite National Park enjoying our last week together!
Next up I will begin my personal travel heading back to the States in early September, travelling to New York State, Wisconsin, and Colorado before finishing off in Toronto, Canada. I look forward to updating you on how that goes!!
Senior Dairy Specialist