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Thursday, May 26, 2011

I-CAL: Meat and Dairy Processing in Columbia

Collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program are currently traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.

Getting up before 4 a.m. is not usually a college student’s cup of tea, but today we had just such a morning, and were richly rewarded with an aerial view of magnificent mountaintops as our plane landed in Medellin, Colombia. After breakfast at our new hotel, our tours today started off like none other: dressing up like Michelin Men to stay warm as we took a tour of a swine, cattle, and veal processing plant.

When we arrived at the plant, we were greeted with kind handshakes and Colanta branded souvenirs. Colanta, our host for the day, is a Colombian cooperative that handles meat and dairy.

Like many of our experiences as part of this program, there was more than meets the eye with their mission including education, collecting milk from the farms, operating stores, and marketing. Overall, they provide a highly integrated service for farmers from three to 450+ cow operations.

At their processing facility, we dressed in our “Michelin Man” apparel and went through several rounds of decontamination. This sanitization is just one part of their impressive biosecurity measures that are strict enough to achieve approval from the USDA and the Mexican government for exports. We toured the plant backwards: starting with the finished product and working back to the beginning of the process.

After leaving the processing plant, once again in our normal clothes, we headed out to a small dairy farm featuring the familiar Holstein breed of dairy cattle. The cows were treated to lush grass and a nutrient dense feed ration. We observed how some farmers still manage to be profitable milking by hand while others use more modern milking units. To better understand the full dairy production aspect encompassed by the member-owned Colanta, we stopped by one of the cooperative’s Agro-Colanta stores which offers everything from medicines and feed to shoes and fertilizers.

Then, we headed on to the Colanta cheese processing plant just up the road. Once again, we donned some new apparel for biosecurity and after the now familiar scrubbing of the boots and hands, we entered the cheese plant. We were able to watch various varieties in production and even sampled some fresh “queso”. The plant also makes yogurt and powdered milk. (Some types of Colanta cheese are available at Publix and Winn-Dixie stores in south United States and are very tasty!)

We were all tired after our long and educational day, but as we headed back to the hotel, the team realized just how beneficial a cooperative can be to both small and large producers. We also appreciated the processes and efforts that go into putting protein in a diet. Retiring after a full day, we all look forward to a busy tomorrow, our last day touring this beautiful Colombian mountain town.

Lauren Geiger – Kansas State University
Thomas Marten – Southern Illinois University

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