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Italian, French Dairy Nutritionists Find Penn State Training is Worth the Trip

Posted: August 12, 2009

Penn State is extending its ever-broadening impact in agriculture to the dairies of Italy and France. The Penn State Dairy Alliance team recently welcomed Italian and French dairy nutritionists – whose work influences one-fifth of the cows in the two countries – to University Park for advanced training in their field.

“We wanted a program that would give us practical – but advanced – training in various areas of dairy nutrition, so we approached Penn State. It has a very strong dairy nutrition program that is known and respected around the world,” explained Paolo Colturato, manager of Team Paragon, the dairy consulting firm that sponsored the training. Team Paragon is comprised of nutrition specialists who provide technical and marketing support to feed millers and mineral and additive producers across Europe.

The nine visiting nutritionists boast a total of 180 years of technical and field support experience and represent feed companies that are ranked among the world’s top 10 in production, including Veronesi Feed and Glon Sanders. Combined, the visitors serve more than 20 percent of the dairy cows in France and Italy.

“We came to Penn State because we think it’s the ‘must’ in dairy nutrition. Penn State is known for its high level of fundamental research on dairy and for quality teachers,” noted Colturato, adding, “This level of applied research in dairy nutrition is practically unknown in Italy.”

The training was a team effort that drew upon the expertise of faculty and staff from Penn State’s departments of Dairy and Animal Science and Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. Gabriella Varga, distinguished professor of Animal Science at Penn State, coordinated the team, which included Kevin Harvatine, assistant professor of nutritional physiology; Alexander Hristov, associate professor of dairy nutrition; Virginia Ishler, nutrient management specialist; and Robert Van Saun, Extension veterinarian and professor of Veterinary Science. Together, they developed the curriculum and served as instructors for the intensive four-day program, which explored current and emerging strategies in dairy nutrition management.

The program was very successful from many aspects, noted Varga. “The visitors continually asked questions and shared their personal experiences in their own countries. We discovered many similarities in feeding programs and especially in the economic challenges facing dairy producers in the U.S. and Europe,” she added.

One afternoon was spent at the Penn State Dairy Research Facility, where the guests participated in hands-on training in bunk management, forage quality and particle size evaluation. A second afternoon was devoted to sharing the slate of new research in dairy nutrition, reproductive physiology, protein metabolism and feeding behavior currently under way by Penn State faculty, staff, and students.

“The visitors were extremely interested in all the different areas we presented,” said Varga. “The program was very successful because there was always interaction and we found many similarities in the challenges our dairy industries are facing, especially today. The one interesting fact that we appreciated was that their dairy producers have been very conscientious about importing nitrogen onto the farm. They have been feeding lower protein rations (15% - 16%) for quite awhile.”

Colturato reports the nutritionists are making good use of their new knowledge back home. Some are implementing new strategies with transition cows, another has applied suggested changes in soluble-degradable protein on farms he works with, another is meeting with his company’s sales force to share the new skills and strategies he learned, and so on.

“We came to Penn State because we think it’s the 'must' in dairy nutrition. Penn State is known for its high level of fundamental research on dairy and for quality teachers. This level of applied research in dairy nutrition is practically unknown in Italy.”
- Paolo Colturato, Manager, Team Paragon

Future collaboration between the groups is expected. “All want to come back in a short period,” said Colturato. Penn State Dairy Alliance’s goal is to hold future educational programs here or abroad, as well as host web-based training on specific topical areas.

“It is critical in today’s economy that we look beyond the borders of Pennsylvania and even the U.S. to work together in the global agricultural community. We have a great deal in common with other countries in the dairy industry and we need a better understanding of how each country has the potential to impact the other,” noted Varga. Penn State is uniquely positioned to customize training in dairy nutrition, reproduction, management and animal health, explained Varga. “With a strong faculty and staff presence we are able to provide expertise in various disciplines that impact all aspects of the dairy industry around the world,” she said.

Michele Moyer, Program Manager, Penn State Dairy Alliance