Exclusive Interview: we talk to MD feed and nutrition at Cargill India

"We can boost milk output by cow by a liter per day" - Cargill reveals ambitions for dairy feed in India

"We can boost milk output by cow by a liter per day" - Cargill reveals ambitions for dairy feed in India

The Indian dairy feed market has huge potential for growth, with education around animal nutrition essential for boosting milk productivity, says Cargill.

FeedNavigator.com caught up with managing director of Cargill India feed and nutrition, Achyuth Iyengar, to hear about the prospects for the dairy feed sector in light of the news last month that the agro-giant is ploughing $10m into a new feed plant in the Punjab.

Iyengar said that as Cargill operates in multiple markets, the company has an extensive database of best practice that can be tapped into.

“What we see happening now in the dairy sector in India is similar to developments in the US market back in the 1980s and 1990s.

The home-mix feed market is huge here but is not organized. A company like us has to create awareness among the farming community about the advantages that conversion to more standardised, commerical feed inputs can bring.

We reckon that by improving animal nutrition through education initiatives in the Indian dairy sector we can boost milk output by cow by a liter per day which would have a huge impact on the milk pool,” said the managing director.                                                                              

Poor feed management

The major causes of low productivity in India, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are said to be stemming from a combination of low genetic potential and poor nutrition or feed management, inferior farm management practices, as well as inadequate veterinary support.

India has one of the largest populations of cattle and buffalo in the world, including 20 million cross-bred varieties. The cross-bred population is either Jersey or Holstein-Friesian, crossed with local cows.

Cross-breeding was the solution used in India to upgrade the milk yield in the absence of high-value imported varieties of pure-bred animals.

Milk productivity rates

Over the last three decades, according to figures from the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the average productivity of Indian cattle has grown from 1.9 to 3.9 kg per day, and from 3.7 to 6.2 kg per day, respectively.

But the average daily milk yield for crossbred cattle, around 7.1 kg per day, is still significantly lesser than the best of global standards of the UK (25.6 kg per day), US (32.8 kg) and Israel (38.6 kg per day).

It can be challenging to work with the agriculture sector, said Iyengar, as like a lot of sectors in India, it tends to be dominated by a focus on short-term results and not the long-term benefits certain projects will generate.

However, Iyengar said that increasing dairy productivity in India through optimising feed and farm management techniques won’t come about from using a “one shot” approach. 

“Companies can’t expect overnight success. We intend to work with the farmers over three years to generate an increase in milk output in around the region of 10 percent,” he said.

Iyengar said that Cargill India is working with all scales of dairy operations from five cow to 100 cow farmers and educating them on site on best practice in feed and nutrition as well as farm managment techniques.

"Using our calf starter products in selected dairy farms, we have already generated good results on weight gain in calves – an additional 750 grams - over the past couple of months,” said the managing director.

New dairy feed mill

Iyengar said that Cargill is also trying to encourage sustainable farming practices through crop diversification to supply the company’s new feed mill in the Punjab set to be operational in about 14 to 18 months.

With the milk demand in India expected to grow by over 80 million MT or 50 percent by 2023, the animal feed mill will play a critical role in supporting that demand, claims the agro-giant.

The managing director said the dairy feed generated from the new 1,20,000 MT state-of-the-art plant will be corn based and will include other inputs such as vitamins and minerals, contributing to the growing demand for quality feed.

“The feed manufacturing plant will feed approximately 75,000 cows per year, providing a nutritious diet for cows and increasing grain usage by 12,500 metric tons per year,” said Iyengar.

Plans for the mill include rigorous testing of raw materials and finished feed as well as nutrient driven formulation. “This is a core company competency. If we can control the quality of the inputs, we can produce a great feed,” said the managing director.

Plethora of opportunities in additives

There are a lot of players already in the animal feed additives business in India from injectables to vitamins and minerals and enzmyes.

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan report on the Indian feed additive sector, there are a plethora of opportunities in “this yet untapped market” for suppliers.

“Once they begin to realize the full potential of the Indian animal feed additive market, rural Indian farmer/breeder markets and ultimately, all animal-related industries in India will get a leg up. However, the lack of regulations, coupled with the presence of a large, unorganized, regional animal feed market, will hamper the pace of market growth.

The lack of awareness about the benefits of additives will only compound these challenges. Most rural farmers and breeders are either unaware of the need for feed additives or are unable to afford them, preferring instead, to buy the feed from the unorganized market," notes the analyst.

The need to spread awareness about the benefits of feed additives is not only important to gain customer acceptance, but is also vital for the growth of the livestock industry, said the report.

“Feed additive manufacturers can partner with the government to build institutions and R&D centers to ensure availability of high-quality human resources to spread brand and product awareness in order to tap the market’s potential,” added the Frost & Sullivan analyst.

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