As a part of the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer Program, local Jackson County UW-Extension agriculture agent Trisha Wagner traveled to the Los Llanos region of Colombia to teach farmers about the importance of milk quality in a two-week educational trip.

Jordan Simonson

“The program is meant for farmers of the U.S. to participate in technical exchange with other farmers around the world,” Wagner said.

The Los Llanos region is east of Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, and is a flat grassland area largely known for its beef production. The area has a tropical climate with a rainy and dry season. The soil is a heavy clay, where corn, soybeans, pine trees and rubber trees for latex are grown.

“There is a range of farms like we have here where we have bigger industrial-type farms and then smaller single-family farms,” Wagner said.

During her trip, Wagner participated in a number of activities that have been going on in the region for the last five years to promote and develop the region’s dairy production.

“The portion of the project that I participated in really was to improve the quality of milk production,” Wagner said.

Wagner spent much of her time visiting farms and spending time with farmers at larger gatherings at local cooperatives. The last few days were spent in central locations teaching the farmers practices that they could use on their farm to address the challenges they are facing.

“The challenge of the assignment was to adapt the recommendations that we know are proven to work and figure out with the farmers of Colombia how they can be adapted to work for them as well,” Wagner said.

Stark differences

Dairy farmers in Colombia operate very differently than those in Wisconsin.

In Colombia, cows are often milked in sheds by hand in very humid and hot conditions. Calves are used to stimulate milk production. The cattle being milked are dual-purpose, being used for milk and beef production.

“You have a number of different environmental challenges and then some goals that are different than how we think of it being in the dairy state where we think of dairy production as the number one sole enterprise, where for them beef production is just as important if not the sole or primary enterprise,” Wagner said.

To control milk quality issues like mastitis, farmers in Wisconsin would use a multitude of different teat dips and paper towels to dry the teats to reduce health issues, but these products are not always an option in Colombia.

“For some of the farmers, buying teat dip was out of the budget. They weren’t even readily available,” Wagner said.

So Wagner had to settle on telling the farmers that they needed to make sure the udder was clean and dry.

“We know that if there is any liquid on the udder then it is a really easy was to transmit bacteria and results in infection in the udder,” Wagner said.

Since the farmers in Colombia were not using teat dip after milking, the cattle were highly susceptible to milk quality issues after milking because the teat end is relaxed and lets more bacteria in. They also brought calves in after milking to finish off the milk from the cows.

Wagner suggested finding ways to keep the cattle standing for 30 minutes after milking such as feeding grain or sugar cane, which would allow the teat ends to close again.

“What we don’t want it to do is go out to the pasture and lay down in the grass or manure and expose the teats to a lot of bacteria,” Wagner said.

Wagner also thought about the possibility of using aloe vera since it is readily available in Colombia and it naturally has healing properties. Ultimately the idea would need to be researched.

While Wagner brought a lot of knowledge to Colombia, she contends she learned more from the trip than those she was teaching.

On past trips, Wagner has been able to spend time with milk quality experts, learn skills that helped her teach students how to manage Spanish-speaking employees and learn many different ways milk products can be used.

“You don’t always necessarily know what you are going to take away from these situations,” Wagner said.

Reason for the program

While many people would contend that Wagner could better spend her time in Wisconsin teaching farmers about the best agriculture practices, Wagner feels like going abroad serves an important purpose.

“It is in great interest for our country to have these particular regions stable and thriving economically because they are allies of our country and they are in regions where we don’t have a lot of allies,” Wagner said.

The U.S. government helps fund programs like the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer Program because it understands agriculture is a valuable economic driver for rural areas in these nations.

“The U.S. recognizes that a dairy industry can provide stability for rural areas. Wisconsin has been an excellent example of that. We have a lot of small businesses across our state that support our local communities,” Wagner said.

By improving rural economies in these countries, it is helping countries recover from civil wars and resist the formation of paramilitary groups and drug cartels.

“They really were strong in the rural areas prior because there wasn’t much hope, potential or options for people in those rural areas so they were easily persuaded to participate in things that were violent activities because it was the only option,” Wagner said.

This is why the program is named after John Ogonowski, who was one of the pilots killed in 9-11.

If a farmer is interested in participating in a program like this, they are encouraged to call Wagner at 715-284-4257. There are several programs around the world that are looking for farmers.

The trip includes all expenses and a translator is provided, so you don’t need to speak any other languages.