September 12, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Recently 11 Russian dairy product entrepreneurs visited Kentucky to learn how their American counterparts do business. They were looking for ways to make their operations at home more efficient and profitable.

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture along with several Kentucky dairy processing businesses and the Dairy Farmers of America provided training and hands on learning for the Russians at farms and processing plants over a three-week period. The group was able to come to Kentucky through the Productivity Enhancement Program of the Centers for Citizen's Initiatives, a citizen diplomacy program.

The entrepreneurs are directors of dairy processing businesses in Russia that employ from 25 to 480 employees. One delegate owned a company that manufactures dairy processing equipment.

Clair Hicks, UK food science professor, agreed to lead the training for the Russian delegation since he knows the industry well. Hicks has spent time in Ukraine and he understands how the dairy operations work there. Although Ukraine is not Russia, it is very similar, he said.

"Some of their equipment is really quite good but they have trouble with sanitation issues and training their workers to handle it," said Hicks. "They are operating at about a 1940 to 1950s level of sanitation."

Hicks explained that when the Iron Curtain fell, most of the centralized dairies sold their cows for hides because that was an immediate source of cash reclaimed by the communist government. Farm workers then took the calves left behind and thus saved the Russian dairy industry.

"The biggest problem they face now are sanitation issues from the farm to the finished product," he said. "They don't understand the need for a U.S. style regulation system, so we talk to them in terms of reducing bacteria on processing surfaces which contaminate the milk and decrease the product quality."

Jack McAllister, UK Extension dairy specialist, participated in the Russians' Kentucky experience by arranging visits to local dairy farms and also by hosting some of the group in his home.

"When they first came, they didn't' understand why they had to look at the cows," he said. "I asked them when they were visiting our research farm how many of them had direct experience with the farms. The answer was zero. It didn't take them long to get adjusted though."

The Russian delegation spent a day at the UK Dairy Farm and then went to two farms in Washington County.

"These two farms know the business really well," he said. "They are very aware and astute and they know the marketing side of the business as well as the production side of it."

The farm personnel took over the training at the two Washington county farms and answered questions from the delegation.

"By the time we left those two farms, I think our visitors had a full appreciation of the farm side of the industry," he said.

The second week of their tour, the Russian delegation toured various Kentucky, Ohioand Indiana dairy processing and value-added businesses to learn about new technology and new ways to use older technology.

"One factory we were in had some moderately old equipment and the visitors were wondering why we brought them there," Hicks said. "But when they realized all the uses for the equipment, they were impressed. It showed them valuable opportunities for equipment they already have back home."

Perhaps the biggest thing the Russians took home was the knowledge of how to start a dairy cooperative that will enhance milk quality and ultimately the profitability of every step of the ladder from the farm to the market.

Hicks said Russian farmers milk their cows by hand. The farmer then takes the hot milk to a dirty village tank or tank truck, which causes losses in milk, quality, and shelf life of the end product.

"One of the sessions was about cooperatives," he said. "The Russians saw a great opportunity and they envision making each village back home a co-op. They could have one person who milks all the cows in one central milking parlor, where it immediately goes into the refrigerated tank right there at the site."

Hicks said they really liked the idea of someday being able to milk up to 120 cows in one location. Each village would then be part of a larger co-op. Some people could be in charge of herd health, others in charge of feeding or milking and still another in charge of a breeding program, which splits the management problems across the entire village. They could still send the cows out to graze during the day, but since there are no fences a couple of the village people would have to go with them.

The third week of the Russian's visit was devoted to learning about business practices.

"We tried to emphasize to them that the consumer is who really drives the markets," Hicks said. "When you go to the store and buy something it's like a vote for that product. Business owners realize that the more votes they get, the more money they make."

The delegates also went to the Kentucky State Fair to witness dairy product judging to see the importance of all the facets of a dairy product.
Since 1996, more than 2,500 Russian entrepreneurs have been trained through internships, primarily hosted by Rotary Clubs, in nearly 300 American communities and 44 states. Lexington Rotary Club was largely responsible for hosting the visitors while they were in Kentucky.

"I wore two hats in this training program," McAllister said. "I'm also a Rotarian and this fits perfectly into our Rotary International Service program. The Product Enhancement Program is an adaptation of the Marshall Plan Technical Assistance Program to enhance the availability of affordable domestic products and services to Russian families."


Clair Hicks  859-257-7538