2018 Kleckner Award recipient Gina Gutierrez from Mexico was interviewed Oct 19 by Ag News Daily during the week of the Global Farmer Roundtable in Des Moines. Below is an excerpt of Gina’s discussion with Mike Pearson and Delaney Howell followed by the link to the full interview.
Question: Congrats on your Kleckner award.
Answer: Thank you. I want to be a leader in my community. I’ve been working for three years in advocating. In my own Facebook page I’m up to 30,000 followers. I’m very grateful because that [the Kleckner Award] encourages me. That keeps inspiring me, and I guess I have a lot of work to do.
Question: You have a lot of work to do not just on that aspect but also day to day. You’re part of a dairy operation. Tell us a little bit about the farm.
Answer: I farm with my dad and my brother. It’s a family operation. They are the vet and the agronomist. I’m fifth generation. We have been working very hard for a long time and like you said, every day is hard work because in dairy you don’t have time to rest. Cows don’t know it’s Christmas and New Year’s.
Question: So tell us about the herd size. Is it just Holsteins? What breeds are you raising?
Answer: We have 420 cows and a lot of heifers and we have a little bit of bull calf in feedlot. And we started off with Holsteins. And in 2003 we started cross breeding with the pro cross system with Montbeliarde and Swedish Red and right now we’re going back just to Holsteins to take advantage of the technology that is coming with genomics.
Question: It’s just further advanced in the Holstein breed than it is in some of the others. The mapping tools and so forth?
Answer: It is and I don’t know the exact science behind it because for me they’re individuals and I guess in people you would get to test genomics in every single individual, but I think they’re not so specific with crossbreed animals.
Question: I did want to ask you Gina – up here in the United States a lot of our listeners are dairy farmers. We’ve been struggling with low milk prices for about three years right now. Tell us about the marketing environment in Mexico. How are milk prices faring? How is the dairy industry faring overall?
Answer: I think the situation is very similar all over the world because dairy is dairy. Milk is a commodity, sadly because you get a huge package of nutrients in there for a very cheap price. I think people should acknowledge that more because you’re not just giving a drink to anyone. It’s food. And the situation’s very similar. I’m one of the lucky ones that I’m in a cooperative in Mexico. We’re the second private brand there so our price is very stable. We do get paid for protein and fat and other quality standards. But I guess we’re one of the few lucky ones that are there.
Question: In the cooperative, how many other members are there? I don’t think of central Mexico as a main dairy area. Is it?
Answer: It is. Well, close to Mexico City, we’re very few. You go in a little bit further to the north, we’re in ten states in Mexico, mostly in northern Mexico which has become a larger dairy area. And we’re 123 farms with 300 partners, but we’re all family operations and I guess my cooperative is just a big family company owned by families.
Question: I assume that cooperatives are run the same in Mexico as they are here in the US, but will you walk us through how cooperatives in Mexico work?
Answer: My cooperative: Alpura it’s called. I guess it’s the only real cooperative in Mexico right now. Other companies started as cooperatives, but we’re the only one remaining as a family and farmer owned operation. Because other brands have turned to more industrial approach.
Question: So you as a cooperative member, do you basically own a share or you’re a part owner in the cooperative?
Answer: It’s based on shares and that shares give us a quota. It maintains our market stable and therefore our prices.
Question: Now you’ve got a vet and an agronomist in the farm, so it sound like you guys are also growing your own crops. Do you chop your own silage?
Answer: Yes, the size of our farm is not that big. We’re only 53 hectares and 40 of them we plant for silage. One year we grow corn and rye grass. And the next year we grow corn, barley and triticale.
Question: How were yields this year? Harvest is done down there, right?
Answer: It is. We’re about to start our first grass cut in a few weeks I guess. My brother takes care of that. He’s amazing. And the yields were pretty good. We were worried that we weren’t going to get enough rain. We were worried – it started after planting. But then it got better. Bad for many farmers out there because hurricanes were just coming one after another, but we’re in the highlands and very dry so rain always helps – but we struggle to find a window between rains.
Question: What’s the general opinion of getting the new USMCA signed? Are farmers down there generally in support of it?
Answer: I guess so because we’re not self-sufficient in a lot of things. We have to import dairy and as a dairy farmer you would think that I’m against that, but I’m not – because as long as people get access to milk I’m OK with it.
Question: Once they try chocolate milk, they’re always going to buy chocolate milk.
Answer: Of course. They would give up soda and instead have chocolate milk. That would be heaven. But also as a farmer I rely on trade in many aspects because I not only buy corn for my operation but soymeal and canola meal and all of that may be coming from Canada as well. And also I need trade because technology is a big part of my farm. So we have Fitbits on all of the cows and you know the software and all, so it’s an important part of our operation.
Question: Did you just say you have Fitbits on all of your cows?
Answer: I did. They were a game changer. We have two kinds of Fitbits on our cows because the timing was off so we started with pedometers, which help us keep track in the milking parlor as well. So they show activity and the cow gets IDed on the milking parlor. And they show us electro conductivity of the milk, so that is like a sign that we need to keep attention on a cow. And then we got the Fitbits on their necks. They’re a microphone and they establish a pattern for an individual cow for their rumination and you get the signs even before the cows get sick. So you are treating individuals now, which is really cool. My dad is a vet and he comes to a cow and we check the manure – the consistency, temperature – if a cow – do you look sad. OK, I’m going to check up on you. And that’s the thing. And then my dad comes with the stethoscope and he sees nothing. He doesn’t know what the cow has because she’s not even sick yet. So it’s a huge chance for him as well as a vet to go to a cow that’s not even sick but you know she’s gonna get something. And then sometimes a little bit of vitamins we use and it helps a little and OK I’ll check it later or tomorrow and that’s a game changer.
Question: That’s really neat. And it makes a lot of sense. I’m assuming with the pedometer aspect of the Fitbit you can see which cows are up and mobile and which are laying down a little more than usual. So when you look ahead, you guys are pretty cutting edge – what’s the future hold, Gina? What are you excited about technology wise on the dairy farm?
Answer: I would like to have robots. They’re very cool and to think that a cow can give milk whenever she wants, it’s pretty cool – you know? But in Mexico we do have opportunity to have labor. We’re over staffed, but that would be very cool to have to have cows just decide whenever she gives milk. It’s very neat and I guess the future is not only for the farms but for the consumers. The better we get, the better food we can provide for them.
Question: I just have one follow up there because you mentioned you don’t have a problem with labor which is not an issue that Americans have. For our listeners who are in the dairy business, you’re running 420 cows. Would you mind telling us how many laborers you have on the farm to help?
Answer: Well it’s my dad, my brother and I and we have 28 employees. So it’s a lot of people working there but that gives us a chance not only to create jobs which is a great thing for our community because the community around us was built around us because of the farm. My great grandfather settled there and he built a school so that the kids of his employees could go to school. And so it is kind of a social work or social service that we are proud to give but it also gives us a chance to ask the best from our people.
Question: And your cows. You’ve got enough people who can keep eyes on cows.
Answer: Right. If your job is feeding, you can stop because please I need help over here. And so that overstaffing gives us a chance to be better with our cows, give them better attention.
Interview at Ag News Daily: