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|Penn State students experience Costa Rican culture, dairy farms|
|Features - Students|
|Written by Sarah Caldwell|
This article was #25 in PDmag's Top 25 most-well read articles in 2011. Click here to jump to the article.
A: For students who want to continue in the dairy industry after graduation, a trip abroad can be very educational. On my two trips abroad to Costa Rica and Ireland, I was able to see firsthand the challenges and advantages producers in those countries faced. As far apart as we were, it was interesting to see how similar our industries are. In addition to the souvenirs I brought back to the U.S., I also brought new ideas and a fresh perspective for dairying in this country.
After a busy year of fundraising events and activities, 43 members of the Penn State Dairy Science Club celebrated their efforts with a spring break trip to Costa Rica March 4-10.
Throughout the rest of the trip, the group scheduled several educational and interesting tours, including banana and coffee plantations, a cheese plant and three farm visits arranged by Dr. Jorge Elizondo Salazar, who obtained his doctorate degree at Penn State and now works as a dairy researcher at the University of Costa Rica.
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The first farm the club visited was at the University of Costa Rica’s Dairy Experimental Station, or the Estación Experimental Alfredo Volio Mata de la Universidad de Costa Rica. Elizondo showed the group around the farm while describing the Costa Rican dairy industry.
The University of Costa Rica has about 50,000 students, and the dairy farm is located several kilometers from campus. The farm milks 40-45 Jerseys in a four-stall milking parlor.
Costa Rican producers are paid about $0.60/kilogram of milk, but like the United States, a cost of production of about $0.50/kilogram of milk limits their profitability.
Instead, the milk is made into cheese, usually unpasteurized, and sold by the producer. Costa Rica dairy farmers are proud of the fact that they produce enough dairy to feed their country.
Although the crops grow well in the rainy season, Costa Rican farmers have a difficult time harvesting the crops, and flooding is common in many areas. During the dry season, the crops simply will not grow well.
Low forage quality leads to low digestibility for the cows, but for a cow diet high in forages, the Costa Rican farmers have to work with what they are given.
The fence is moved in this manner so that the cows will get up and eat the grass in front of them, instead of standing in or laying down on the grass. In a standard grazing operation in Costa Rica, the grass requires a 30-day to 40-day rotation; however, in this dynamic system, the grass requires an 80-day rotation.
In addition to the regular milk truck, producers can also bring their milk to the cheese plant in traditional milk cans hauled by vehicles, horses and even oxen. Some producers will travel six or seven hours, one way, every other day to deliver their milk to the cheese plant.