Argentina gets cow embryos from Vermont

Posted

Tuesday, July 15
BRATTLEBORO -- If Jairo Blanco has his way, Vermont might one day become the international home of the people's cow.

Blanco has been working with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to ship Holstein embryos to Argentina, and a few weeks ago, 50 frozen embryos arrived in the South American country.

Embryo transfer is a common technology in the livestock industry. But according to Blanco, most shipping consultants have largely concentrated on the high-end, pedigree embryos that sell for about $10,000 each.

The Vermont embryos that arrived in Argentina late last month sold for $600 apiece and Blanco said he hopes it is the first of many international shipments that will help spread the state's well-respected herd across the globe.

"A lot of South American farms don't require a $10,000 embryo to get what they need," said Blanco, who is an international dairy consultant who lives in South Burlington and is a native of Colombia. "The average Vermont farmer has some very powerful cows that are not being marketed properly. We are opening a new opportunity for the average Vermont dairy farm."

Argentina cows, on average, produce 10,000 pounds of milk annually, while the U.S. average is just less than 20,000 pounds, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture reports.

Blanco said an average, healthy Holstein can dramatically increase the production on a South American farm, and those farmers do not need the top of the line cow to boost their business.

The dairy industry in Argentina has been growing over the past few years and Vermont agriculture secretary Roger Allbee said the successful delivery of the Vermont embryos to Argentina marks an important step in opening relations with other countries.

"South America is building its dairy industry with bovine genetics from around the world and Vermont farmers can benefit from that," Allbee said. "Vermont produces some of the highest quality milk anywhere because we have some of the highest quality dairy animals in the world. This trade mission will help to improve dairy quality in Argentina and offers another way for Vermont dairy farmers to diversify their businesses."

The Vermont-Argentina relationship took almost four years from the first day Blanco approached the Agriculture Agency in Montpelier with the idea.

Blanco worked previously with Wisconsin farmers and one day he asked Steve Justis, who is in charge of international exporting at the Vermont agency, why the state was not doing more with international embryo transfer.

Justis mostly works with produce and the maple industry, and when Blanco came into his office Justis said that he had simply never thought about it.

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"Nobody ever asked and we never had the resources to do anything in the past," Justis said about the state's lack of experience in international embryo transfer. "This is not going to be a huge new source of income for Vermont farmers, but it can be an additional source of income for those who want to pursue it."

The state used U.S. Department of Agriculture money to bring some Argentina farmers to Vermont and a Vermont contingent traveled to South America as well to promote its dairy industry.

The Argentina dairy group traveled to farms around the state, including Roy Homan's farm in Chester, where some of the 50 frozen embryos that were sent to Argentina originated.

The plan took almost four years because there were piles of international forms to fill out and veterinary inspections of the sending cows.

But Blanco said one of the most challenging hurdles of the whole deal was convincing farmers on both sides of the equator that the plan would work.

"Vermont farmers are busy, and there was always a cow to milk or a field to hay before they wanted to hear about something like this," said Blanco. "And in Argentina, the first thing we had to do was show them where Vermont was on the map."

The order brought in $30,000 to the Vermont farmers and Justis and Blanco are assembling an embryo donor catalog including pedigrees and production records for 120 registered donor cows.

Vermont is planning another buyer's mission later this year and Blanco said talks are being arranged with farmers in other South American countries.

The embryos are shipped in liquid nitrogen, and they arrived safely in Argentina where farmers will wait a few months until the season is right to impregnate their cows.

From there it will still be a few years before the South American farmers get their first taste of the Vermont milk, but Blanco is confident the deal is going be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

"The challenge was educating both sides to understand the advantage of this," Blanco said. "We are disclosing the secret that the average dairy farmer in Vermont has one of the best genetic banks in the world."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reform-er.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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