Milking More Value
Research in Hamilton is looking at how the composition of milk can be manipulated on the farm to earn farmers more cash.
The research – funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the New Zealand Dairy Board – is being conducted by Dexcel, formerly Dairying Research Corporation Ltd.
Dexcel senior scientist and programme leader Norman Thomson says the goal is to create high-value milk on-farm.
“Farmers are paid on fat yield and protein. At the moment, they’re getting about $2 for a kilo of fat and $5 for a kilo of protein. Their costs have gone up, but not their profitability, on the whole. If we can alter the composition of the milk we might end up with less fat but with more protein. There’s only so much milkfat the dairy industry can sell. But we can always sell more protein,” Mr Thompson says.
“Milk contains hundreds of different components, fatty acids, proteins and minerals. We analyse milk for 80 different compounds, some of them we as an industry haven’t thought about before. We’re looking at milk that’s especially suited to making new products that have health and well-being benefits for consumers.”
Researchers are looking at how the cow’s environment can be changed – for example, what it eats, when it’s milked or even how long it is dark for. If there’s a protein or lipid that might help fight cancer or improve well-being, why is it there? Is it in the diet, is it in the genes? So can changes be made to how the cow is managed and can more of it be produced?
Mr Thomson says that until a few years ago no dairy farmers harvested colostrum, the first secretions from mammary glands after giving birth.
“But then research showed that it might help improve athletic performance or that upset tummy, among other things. Now more than 2000 farmers are harvesting it. It’s powdered and sold to many athletes.”
Milk is no longer “just white stuff”, he says. “I read somewhere that milk composition has over 900 parts. Many have possible health benefits, and they’ll boost profitability to the farmer.”