The only certainty in life is change.  Change in own age and abilities, change in family circumstances, changes in society due to socio economical and political developments and changes in technology and production systems. Denial won’t work, it is no use fighting against, the only profitable approach is to understand and to adapt. The latter certainly applies with changes in dairy production and the required accomodation for it by dairy laboratories.

During the past decades, dairying has changed under ‘the general laws of economics’, due to increasing demands on the technical quality of milk but also under the growing societal interest in production conditions. Product safety, nutritional value, sustainability, animal welfare and how to communicate on that to a public audience are the topical issues in the global dairy business at present.
25 years ago, raw milk testing was merely allocated in central milk testing laboratories and with animal health services. On-farm, there was of course the ‘good old’ California Mastitis Test, the first systems with conductivity measurements appeared in the milking parlour and test kits for checking on antibiotics and progesterone popped up. Since then, the options for on-farm production monitoring have gradually expanded. The application of conductivity measurements was optimized and a wide variety of other solutions for udder health monitoring came to life, one more successful than the other. With the introduction and implementation of electronic milk meters, herd management software and also automated milking systems, milk production data were more and more being exploited to pinpoint shortcomings in feed management and to identify cows that needed special attention. A more recent step is the application of biometric models in combination with targeted milk testing to efficiently monitor on key aspects as fertility, udder health and feeding.  Also routine determination of fat, protein, lactose and somatic cell count on-farm does go live now.

Changes are noticeably there, but let’s also consider time scales. Farmers are accommodating with different pace towards technological development. This due to their personal goals, their opinion on the required trajectory to achieve them and their circumstances. There is also the simple practical fact that the large majority of barns and milking parlours is renewed and/or replaced once in 20 to 25 years. This explains why the shift towards obtaining more information more quickly for management purposes on-site is a long term process.

Where does that leave central milk testing laboratories in the foreseeable future? They were once founded to efficiently produce data out of milk for fair payment and to deliver valuable information for breeding programmes. On the one hand that is what they still do. At the same time they have redirected themselves towards a much more service-oriented customer approach, both to dairy farmers and dairy processors. This through speeding up the information flow by implementing subsequent generations of information and communication technology and by providing new services such as urea, fatty acid composition, PCR on mastitis pathogens, animal health monitoring through testing on antibodies and surveillance on residues and contaminants.

Flexible testing of individual samples at Qlip in Holland

For the coming years milk testing laboratories will have to timely accommodate for the gradual changes affecting their traditional services.  However, there is also a broad palette of new opportunities waiting for them. Infrared fingerprints of milk samples can be further exploited to bring additional value, especially in feed management and for genetic selection on fat and protein composition. Creating facilities for variable frequencies in milk payment samples and selective testing with additional dedicated tests will help to fit in with needs of individual farmers and dairy processors. Moreover, the extensive experience of milk testing laboratories in analytical quality assurance and trouble shooting can form a strong basis for supportive QA services in a world with more on-farm testing. Critical success factors for new services are  limited effort for the dairy farmer or dairy processor, information being fit for purpose and an attractive performance/price ratio.

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that on-farm testing and central milk testing will remain complementary in foreseeable years, although with moving panels between them!

Exchange of experience and knowledge will remain of crucial importance for all involved. I therefore anticipate a prosperous future for Raw Milk Connect, this in the interest of the founders but most of all to the benefit of all related stakeholders in the dairy chain in the broadest sense.

 

Harrie van den Bijgaart
Operations manager, laboratories
Qlip NV, Zutphen, The Netherlands
July 2011