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International nutritionist: ‘Feed availability and quality is one of the greatest challenges to Chinese dairies’

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 27 June 2016
Frank Delfino getting feed sample

Editor’s note: This article is the third in a series profiling sources for an in-depth feature about the Chinese dairy industry, appearing in print later this summer.

Frank Delfino seems to spend as much time in the air as he does with his feet on the ground. As president of Delfino Nutrition and Management Inc. of Columbia, Tennessee, he consults internationally with both dairies and feed manufacturers.

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His clients today are located in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China, Korea, Thailand and South Africa, in addition to the U.S.

Delfino grew up on a ranch in the Southern California desert, where he developed a special interest in intensive arid agriculture. He received a bachelor’s degree in nutrition science from the University of California – Davis. A master’s in animal science and a Ph.D. in nutrition, both from the University of Arizona, followed.

His professional career began in Saudi Arabia after graduate school. At that time, he served as the nutritionist for Almarai Company Ltd. of Riyadh, a large integrated dairying operation. During his 12-year tenure, Almarai grew from 10 1,000-milking-cow farms with less than 7,000 kg rolling herd average (RHA) to four 5,000-milking-cow farms producing 12,500 kg RHA. Today, Almarai milks 85,000 head and averages more than 13,500 kg RHA.

Delfino works with both the management and the staff of his clients to optimize rations, analyze feed and identify opportunities for increased production and profit. His five areas of specialization include: reduction of cow stress factors, transition cow management, feed handling and management, forage utilization, and feed ingredients and additives. Currently, his primary areas of work are in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China.

Frank Delfino inspecting manure

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“The similarities between the larger Chinese companies and the Saudi dairy companies are that they are going for scale,” explains Delfino. “The large-scale Chinese dairy farming operations milk between 10,000 and 100,000 head.” With the larger Chinese population, there are significantly more large-scale dairies in China as compared to Saudi Arabia.

Feed availability and quality is one of the greatest challenges to Chinese dairies, according to Delfino. Capable farm management is also a major need. “You have to remember that prior to the rapid expansion, the dairy sector [in China] was small and fragmented,” Delfino says. “It takes time to develop good managers.”

In addition to providing feed ingredients and management training opportunities, Delfino sees technology as another expanding opportunity for the U.S. as China’s dairy industry continues to grow.

“The larger Chinese operations are rapidly adopting new technology at an ever increasing rate,” Delfino says. “This market seems to be a great place for the major milking equipment manufacturers to roll out new technology, as well as companies with heat detection, rumination and activity tools.”

Delfino has witnessed the rapid growth of the dairy sector in China firsthand. He made his first trip in 1987 and has worked directly with dairies, feed producers and tech service industries.

Frank Delfino

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“Over the years, the industry certainly has changed,” Delfino says. “Infrastructure has improved, but has a long way to go.”

Today, he travels to China quarterly to work with his dairy clients, a feed miller and a specialty feeds manufacturer.

“Customers are looking for support in animal comfort, evaluation of new products, feeding technology and sourcing of feedstuffs,” Delfino says. He also finds that his Chinese clients rely upon his colleague network to identify additional experts when they face specific challenges.

As China’s dairy industry continues to adopt new technology, invest in management training, improve feedstuffs and address the challenges of rapid growth, Delfino says he believes the efforts are beginning to pay off.

“There are a couple of Chinese dairy operations that are rapidly heading toward the same production as the best dairies in the U.S. or Middle East,” he says.  PD

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer who makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO 1: Frank Delfino prepares to take a feed sample at -25ºC (-13ºF) while consulting in China.

PHOTO 2: Frank Delfino works directly with the staff of his Chinese clients, such as evaluating manure as pictured here, because as he says, "It takes time to develop good managers."

PHOTO 3: Tennessee resident and California native Frank Delfino has clients in more than 10 countries worldwide. Photos provided by Frank Delfino.

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