Friday, October 21, 2016

Leading High-Quality Calves to Markets

As Partners reaches the halfway point of its 2013-2018 Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our staff are reviewing and analyzing program data and reflecting on the program so far. Below, we take a closer look at the Calf Quality Improvement Program, a partnership between F2F Nicaragua, CONAGAN, and CANICARNE. 

The European and US markets are interested in importing high-quality beef from Nicaragua. In order for Nicaragua livestock industries to take advantage of these opportunities, they need to ensure that best agricultural practices are in place throughout the livestock value chain. Partners of the Americas’ F2F program is ideally situated to play a leading role in these efforts given the long history of collaborating with partners across the livestock value chain by facilitating the transfer of technical assistance that contributes to the adoption of good agricultural practices. The Livestock and Dairy project strategy aims to build the capacity of Nicaragua’s livestock producers, processors, and marketers in the area of agro-enterprise development in order to improve their competitiveness in the domestic and international dairy and beef markets.

Two of the key partners in this strategy are the Nicaraguan Chamber of Beef Exporting
Plants (CANICARNE), a non-profit association composed of four slaughterhouses exporting beef products, and the National Livestock Commission of Nicaragua (CONAGAN), a non-profit organization supporting livestock producers. Together, F2F and these national cattle organizations have created the Calf Quality Improvement Program to help develop and promote a brand that guarantees good agricultural practices of grass-fed beef and dairy farms, which enables producers to sell their raw materials with added value to the industry. By providing training and helping producers to obtain certifications, F2F links producers and their value-added products to international markets.

For years, F2F has been a leader in providing technical assistance to small and medium-sized grass-fed beef and dairy farms in Nicaragua. In the past, F2F facilitated expert volunteer assignments to assist with the production side of the livestock industry. During the current 2013-2018 program, F2F is building off of the success of the production volunteer assignments by taking an integrated, systematic approach that brought together various actors across the livestock value chain to address the key factors to achieving best practices grass-fed beef and dairy farms. In the words of Nicaragua F2F field officer Elisa Estrada, “If we want quality meat, then we need heathy calves. If we want healthy calves, then we need good livestock practices. If we want good livestock practices then we need technical assistance and incentives.”

Doussou Traore, a volunteer who visited Nicaragua in October of 2014, recommended that CANICARNE organize and hold an inter-professional consultation/meeting to address finance and required inputs constraints (e.g. better breeds, feeding formula, cost comparisons, cost of production analysis). All main stakeholders should be involved in these meetings (e.g. direct market participants, service, policy makers). With the support of several other F2F volunteers, CANICARNE implemented this recommendation and created a commission to explore creating a brand for the Nicaraguan beef in order to access to niche markets and better opportunities for the cattlemen. F2F helped organize this commission and after a year of meeting, they decided to launch a “Calf Quality” Pilot Program. Many of the practices that this pilot program is based on come from F2F volunteer recommendations. For example, Ashley Conway visited Nicaragua in April 2015 and recommended that farmers increase their feeding adjustment period from 3 days to a minimum of 5 days, with first diet step-up being 30-40% of final ration. After another 5 days, she recommended they increase to 75%, and another 5 days before moving to 100% of final ration. This specific recommendation has been adopted by CANICARNE and is now used as the good feeding practice for the Calf Quality pilot program.

The main objective of the Calf Quality Pilot Program is for a calf to gain 220 kilos in the first year. In order to achieve these weight gains, producers sign a contract with a slaughterhouse that stipulates a number of best practices including: 1) giving the calf milk the first month as opposed to selling that milk, 2) castrating the calf, and 3) after milking for a month, giving the calf a concentrate. If the calf reaches 220 kilos, at the feedlot they are expected to reach 400 kilos after 120 days (which is faster than other methods). When the producer sells the calf at 200-220 kilos, they receive the market price of the calf plus an additional 8% as an incentive. The program also offers an advance of 3,000 cordobas or about $100 US dollars without interest or any kind of guarantee. In Nicaragua, there are no banks or creditors that would offer a similar advance.

As of late July of 2016, the Calf Quality Pilot Program had enrolled 30 producers with a total of 40 calves. All of these producers have signed a contract with the slaughterhouses and some have already delivered their first calves at the target weight of 220 kilos. In addition to the market price they receive from the slaughterhouse, those producers have also received, on average, $15,600 cordobas or about $540 US dollars in incentives. The pilot program is still in its infancy, but early results are promising. One of the most tangible outcomes is the economic incentive that the producers are receiving. There is now a premium paid for quality meat that did not exist before. The premium is small at the moment but plans are under way for it to increase as the program expands. The formalization of production system through the contract indicates that the producers are adopting best practices and the potential exists to transfer those practices to other producers. Another emerging outcome of the pilot program is the positive relationship between producers and the slaughterhouses, which has not always existed. Finally, the pilot program has led to the creation of a new fertility service program in CONAGAN.

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