Agri Business

Can we control milk inflation?

RG Chandramogan | Updated on July 29, 2014


Yes, through improved feeding and fodder cultivation practices

India is the world’s No. 1 milk producer with 120 million tonnes (mt) output in 2012 – 66 mt from buffaloes and 54 mt from cows.

Yet, our consumers are being forced to pay high price for milk. Is there a way to control inflation in this essential commodity while taking care of our dairy farmers – who have, no doubt, benefited from price increases in recent times?

The answer is: yes, it can be done by simply increasing the milk productivity of our animals. You don’t need any foreign guru to tell this.

But just to give an idea, India’s milk cow population of 50.1 million is almost 36 per cent of the world’s total of 140.3 million. However, its cow milk production of 60.1 mt for 2014 would be just over 12.5 per cent of the world’s 479.5 mt (source: USDA, ‘Dairy: World Markets and Trade’, July).

Future cows

The problem isn’t with our animals: Well over a quarter of India’s milch cows are cross-breds; they produce more than half of our total milk from cows.

The problem really lies in educating our farmers on better feeding practices. They tend to over-feed the animal that is in milk, while ignoring the calf. In not feeding it properly, the calf that should have come to puberty and be ready for insemination in 13 months takes 18 months for the same.

This point is important because at the end of the day, not only does the farmer spend more on the calf by feeding it for an additional five months, but also the resultant cow is an animal with much reduced milking potential.

To borrow an analogy from cricket, we Indians mainly produce medium-pacers because our kids aren’t given nutritious and balanced food right from childhood, necessary to build both stamina and strength for the future. Ultimately, only a healthy calf can make a great cow!

Balanced ration

The crude protein (CP) requirement of an adult cow is about 750 grams/day only for maintenance of body weight and general mobility. A milking cow requires an additional 100 grams/day for every litre of milk. So, if a cow is to give 10 litres a day, its total CP requirement is 1,750 grams – 1,000 grams for milk and 750 grams for body maintenance-cum-mobility.

The challenge is to deliver the above CP requirements in the most economical way.

Right now, we seem to emphasise too much on giving concentrated cattle feeds (CCF), while not leveraging India’s tropical country advantage that enables it to grow green fodder round the year.

Today, we have very good hybrid fodder grasses such as Co-4 developed by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University yielding up to 140 tonnes an acre annually. With 20 per cent dry matter (DM) and CP content at 10.7 per cent of that, this translates to 3 tonnes of CP per acre.

By contrast, annual fodder yields in temperate countries such as New Zealand are only about 40 tonnes an acre due to extended winters there. Even after factoring in higher protein content – 16-17 per cent of DM – the overall CP yield comes to only 1.3-1.4 tonnes an acre.

Milking fodder

This green fodder advantage we can and should leverage. At Hatsun, we have shown that an animal’s entire 750-gram daily CP requirement for body maintenance-cum-mobility can be met by just feeding 35 kg of Co-4. It means CCF needs to be given only for production of milk.

The cost savings from this are huge. For a farmer, cultivating fodder in-house costs only 15-20 paise a kg, whereas he has to pay ₹18-20/kg for buying CCF. True, CCF has 20 per cent CP, against 2.1 per cent for Co-4 fodder. But even in terms of CP, CCF is nearly 13 times expensive than green fodder.

By making our farmers realise the importance of balanced nutrition for their calves (so that they become good future milkers) and encouraging them to cultivate good-quality green fodders such as Co-4 and Desmanthus in-house (not to replace, but reduce reliance on expensive CCF), we will see both milk yields and feeding costs come down.

By producing more milk at less cost, both the farmer and the consumer stand to gain. Through this, we can increase India’s milk production to 200 mt probably without adding a single animal and also make milk an affordable source of nutrition for our masses.

But this ‘win-win’ solution requires common sense and hard work, for which the industry (both cooperative and private dairies), agricultural universities, animal husbandry departments and the National Dairy Development Board need to come together.

The focus should be on educating the farmer to improve feeding and on-farm fodder cultivation practices.

Verghese Kurien showed us 50 years ago how milk shortages can be dealt with through common sense and by working with farmers. That same approach can be useful today in addressing milk inflation.

The writer is Chairman & Managing Director, Hatsun Agro Product Ltd.

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Published on July 29, 2014
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