For over 20 years, the Cornell University Dairy Science Club (CUDS) has taken a trip during the winter break. Every other year the club travels to California, and the opposite year is an international trip. On international trip years, half the club, typically the freshman and sophomores and some transfer students travel to Italy while the upperclassmen choose their destination based on a group discussion and our advisor’s ability to make effective linkages to industry professionals. Last spring our options came down to New Zealand, one of our biggest competitors in the dairy industry, or China, a growing dairy industry and large buyer of our milk.
When we chose China as our trip many people, including myself, were nervous for such a culture shock. The thought of being in a completely different continent and place where few people knew English didn't hit me until I was on the 13 hour plane ride from Detroit to Beijing.
With this being the first CUDS trip to China - no one knew what to expect. We were greeted at the airport by some of our new Chinese friends from China Agricultural University. We were so thankful to have such gracious hosts to show us around Beijing, help us understand China's culture and dairy industry, and translate for us when we wanted to buy souvenirs or order Chinese KFC!
One of the best opportunities for interaction and learning came from the case study farm evaluation. We were organized into groups of 3 to 4 Cornell and 3 to 4 CAU students so we could work together and learn from each other during the case study and throughout the week. Through this activity we were able to travel around the countryside of China by bus and ask our Chinese group members about the sights we were seeing and more about their culture.
The biggest eye opener in China was the country's perception of dairy farms compared to the perception here in the U.S. Consumers here would be fearful of Modern Dairy, a publicly traded company with multiple sites throughout China totaling 220,000 cows. The Chinese aren't fearful of larger farms because they trust these farms have excellent quality control compared to smaller family farms in the countryside. The dairy industry of China is working to gain the trust of the Chinese consumer and the loss of trust was partly due to the melamine scandal in 2008. Thus, larger farms like Modern Dairy have become vertically integrated and very transparent to gain that trust.
The site was biosecure and expected all employees to shower in and out every day and they were provided uniforms for work to minimize bringing pathogens onto the farm from other animals. Two farms we visited had cafeterias which provided meals for their workers. The farms we saw really cared a lot for their employees as farms in China rely more on labor than technology, compared to the US. The setup was ideal for visitors to see how cows are milked and how milk is processed. Windows throughout the facility showed all the parlors and the processing room. The Modern Dairy site we visited in Bengbu had 22,000 cows, eight rotary parlors, and a processing plant in the center of the dairy. The UHT milk was processed and bottled within two hours of milking.
The end of our trip was filled with tourist attractions like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. Our club enjoyed our once in a lifetime experience and will be welcoming students from the China Agricultural University to Cornell University this fall and show them around America and return the favor!