Every year, the dry season in Central America slows milk production – and climate change is exacerbating the problem. What if dairy farmers planted corn during the rainy season, produced silage, and saved it for the next dry season to feed their herds?
Through Bayer’s DKsilos initiative, small-scale cattle ranchers are learning how to grow corn, which comes with shared value for all involved parties along the dairy value chain. As a result of this initiative’s implementation, participants of the program have reported increased incomes and improvement in quality of life.
Find out more about DKsilos on Bayer’s smallholder farming webpage: Smallholder Commitment | Bayer Global
For low-income farming families in Central America and Southeast Mexico, raising cattle and selling dairy is a vital livelihood strategy. The typical small dairy rancher has about 25-30 head of cattle grazing on a similar number of hectares. They sell their daily milk production to local milk processors and artisanal cheese producers.
It’s difficult, however, to raise dairy cows in the local climate. During the five-month dry season, problems arise when grass growth is insufficient to feed the herd – and climate change is exacerbating the problem. With droughts, cows can lose up to 25% of their weight, produce 50% less milk, and become more likely to fall sick and less likely to breed.
Bayer shared an economic growth opportunity with dairy ranchers and dairy processors in these regions that could address the challenge: for ranchers to plant corn on a part of their grazing land, then undergo training to perform corn silage, a proven preservation technique in harsh climates that allows feed to be preserved over long periods of time. The initiative, called DKsilos, would also provide access to a technological package, machinery, technical advice, and milk collection outlets. Bayer trained dairy ranchers, for example, on how to grow corn and when to harvest to produce silage. Silage is produced through chopping of corn plants, for which Bayer provided the necessary machinery and tools.
Small-scale cattle ranchers quickly received economic benefits from Bayer’s new business model. On average, farmers profited about $5,000 USD more per year when implementing DKsilos thanks to lower feeding costs and higher milk productivity. The dairy processors, in turn, benefitted from access to locally sourced milk year-round instead of transporting milk or milk powder from distant suppliers.
“In times of drought, silage helps a lot to feed the animals,” said one female cattle rancher in an impact study involving small-scale cattle ranchers in Mexico and Honduras. “DKsilos has allowed us to be more prepared and not worry as much.”
Most participating ranchers who have worked with DKsilos report positive social benefits. In a study conducted by 60 Decibels in May 2023 among 400 cattle ranchers, 68% of participants reported that their income increased because of DKsilos, 75% reported that they experienced a better method of farming, and 67% perceived an improved quality of life.
The DKsilos program has been operating for seven years, reaching over 40,000 farmers throughout Southeast Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. In the future, the program will expand to more countries and digital products will continue to be tested to help improve production, productivity, and sustainability.