Monday, September 21, 2015

Beefing up Cattle Production in Nicaragua

Written by F2F volunteer Tim Cobb

It is with gratitude that I am able to report on a portion of my recent trip to Nicaragua in support of the local Beef and livestock industries. This trip was the second opportunity I have had and so the additional excitement at the opportunity led me to seek understanding of the overall industry structure. I looked for which agriculture organizations and groups are working to better the financial opportunities of small producers, what specific things could be accomplished in future assignments as well as what I could personally give to improve the well-being of another.

Throughout the trip it became apparent that each producer or organization equally shared the desire to create and grow economic stability as well as the quality of products that are derived from operations small and large. This desire serves as the beginning point to allowing specialists from other nations to come and affect real improvement based and built upon existing structures. I was grateful for the chance to speak at the culminating sessions of the both the National and Central American Cattleman's Congress meeting.

The first few days in country was spent conversing and discussing current beef production topics with individuals from other Central American countries (Panama, Guatemala, Belize) who had come to get an overview of the industry in Nicaragua. Our first stop on the tour was Nuevo CARNIC which is a medium to large sized slaughter and beef processing plant in Managua. The purpose of this stop was to meet with industry leaders and to discuss supply of high quality cattle used in beef production. We met first in the offices of the plant and listened as over the past few months the leadership has seen reduced numbers of cattle overall coming to market, which has caused them concern on many levels as they try to fulfill the general demand. 

Traveling east out of Managua we headed to Tipitapa for a medium sized public auction market specific to cattle. Subasta El Ganadero sells hundreds of cattle two different times during the week. These cattle arrive from the countryside on large and small trucks, they are marked, weighed, and sorted based on body condition score. We were introduced to the auctioneer as well as the foreman who explained to us that the cattle volume for this time of year was down however the quality seemed to be consistent with season’s past.

We learned that prices overall are steady however, due to last year’s drought there occurred selloff of cattle that had driven the price point down for some time. It was a well-run auction that handled the marketing of a variety of breeds, ages, and sizes.

On Wednesday we started by visiting a privately held feed lot to the east of Managua. I come from the cattle feeding industry and this opportunity to see a confined feedlot that is focused on weight gain and finishing of cattle was of high interest to me.
Over all the facility and the staff were very professional and I was impressed to see that kind of organization in the production of cattle in the single use of beef as heretofore most of the producers I had worked with in Nicaragua were smaller and less industrialized.

Following our visit we had a very informative presentation by members of Conagan who spoke to us about their efforts with livestock traceability.  I was encouraged that the effort was even being attempted as even developed nations like the United States still don’t have a unified system for tracking animals from birth to harvest.

Thursday was the first of two days of conference and presentation set up to bring together cattle producers from across Nicaragua as well as all other Central American countries. It was a very well organized and attended event. There was multiple speakers on all topics from animal nutrition to sustainable and value added products, to market demand and trending topics. I found it to be very worthwhile and informative.

As a summary of my first presentation, 
“Management of Beef cattle in drought conditions”, I gave an over view of recommendations to mitigate the effects of drought on pasture cattle. I attempted to help all the producers remember that you have to be thinking and planning at a minimum of 6 months in advance for what may or may not happen, as droughts can be longer than anticipated. Proper cattle age management is key in times of drought as older, less efficient animals may need to be sold to preserve feed and nutrients for younger higher producing animals.  I was grateful for the chance to speak about this topic and received good commentary and questions during the feedback time. 

On Friday I took opportunity to speak and teach regarding how the intensive beef cattle industry works in the United States as well as the aspects to improve the quality of beef production animals.  I did my best to illustrate the more than 75 year process the United States beef industry has gone through to get to where it is today providing a very consistent and predictable product to our domestic and global consumer.

I enjoyed very much the opportunity to speak and teach in this type of setting and really could see a section of the overall cattle industry that is in its infancy. Understanding this is a developing nation means that it will take time to develop and that with the right amount of simple consistent steps that the people will attain success and overall increased economic power over time.

This trip to Nicaragua and the work we completed with the Farmer-to-Farmer Program of Partners of the Americas has truly created an impact in my life as well as the hosts that we worked with and served. Overall, there is much that can be done to aid the producers of Nicaragua and the current approach is both practical and realistic to achieve great improvements and economic stability. I would recommend the projects and staff at any level as they continue to create betterment in each zone of agricultural production. I look forward to another opportunity to serve with Farmer-to-Farmer in the Future. Thank you!

Tim Cobb

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