Crystal's Story - "PROLEA"
Many dairy farmers in Mexico struggle to efficiently produce milk. However, Prolea was put together to help local dairy farmers in Jalisco, Mexico do just that: produce milk. The dairy cooperative is well represented locally as well as at the state and national levels because the producers have so few cows and alone could not achieve what has been achieved through the cooperative. Because numerous small dairy farmers came together to make themselves large enough, they are able to have suppliers and buyers of products. Prolea has six levels supplied to its members: milk production, feed mill, grain production, heifer raising facility, financial services, and dairy processing.
Prolea was started in 1991 with 44 members who had a central site to bring milk and further sell it. Being that these members needed to transport their milk about nine kilometers in order to cool it, some of the milk was not cooled for 5 hours. Since milk needs to be cooled quickly, most farms were able to purchase their own cooling tank and now a truck picks up the milk from each farm. There are currently three groups that are still transporting milk as in the past, but there are also three collection centers where farmers can bring their milk now instead of just one. Today there are 450 members. On average each member has 50 cows with some members only owning 2 and others owning 100. Some of the members believe in equipment because they believe that their cows produce enough revenue, while others do not.
In 1993, Prolea started a feed mill. Their membership more than doubled when this was added. Producers could commercialize member’s grain at the mill because there was more grain produced than needed by the livestock of the members. The feed mill also provides producers with fertilizer, herbicides and seeds. Members are struggling with the idea of purchasing equipment because the price of bioethanol continues to rise. A year ago corn was 2,600 pesos/ton and today it is about 3,000 pesos/ton. Some members do own equipment, but Prolea also offers the use of their equipment to all members. Members can take out loans to purchase cows, buildings and equipment through Prolea as well.
Mexicans are members of Prolea because they benefit. The members receive social benefits such as health care for their families, free doctors 24 hours/day, a pharmacy, x-rays, and lab testing. Prolea, due to its size, also helps lower the prices for all other Mexicans in the area. Anyone associated with the coop (members, doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.) receive the benefits of the cooperative. Not only are there health benefits, but members benefit with crop production, veterinary care, and technical advancements. The members are given credits to plant 7,000 hectares of land by receiving 4,000 pesos/hectare, but the cost is really 12,000 pesos/hectare. The members are also supplied with equipment to harvest the crops if desired. There are computers that help producers know that their cattle will be receiving a good quality feed product. There are two agricultural engineers within the cooperative; one specializes in crops and the other in animals. Members can utilize these individuals as needed. There are also three veterinarians available for use. Prolea also provides a heifer raising facility for those members interested.
The heifer facility provides care for three day old heifers to springing heifers. Heifers enter the facility by being tested for good immunoglobulins, tuberculosis and brucellosis and then receive a certificate of good health. It will cost each member 500 pesos per calf when they are initially brought into the facility. However, if the calf dies, 80% of the value of the heifer is returned to the owner. 3% of calves die who come to the facility. After the health certificate is complete, the calf is identified with the number of the member, number of the calf, the sire, and the date of birth. The calves are fed milk replacer from a bottle and are continuously provided with grain and water. They begin receiving roughages in stage two, which is approximately two months of age; all feed is made at the heifer facility. The heifers are dehorned at six months and bred at thirteen months. Prolea purchases seaman from ABS, Alta genetics and Canada. They prefer Canadian seaman because it is only 30 pesos per service versus $30 per service with U.S. seaman. All animals are cleaned every three days. Heifers stay at this facility for 700 days at the cost of 3,000 pesos. Included in the cost is seaman for breeding, their feed, and the tests for their certificate of good health.
Finally Prolea provides a milk processing plant to its members. The plant processes liquid milk and further sells it to stores. There is a truck going to stores to check prices and consumer behavior on a regular basis. They are in the process of getting their own trade mark, which should help the sale of their liquid milk.
As one can see, Prolea is a cooperative working for its members. By providing financial services to help members get started, transporting and processing the milk produced, providing a feed mill and grain services and equipment as well as health benefits, the members are successful and enjoy their occupation as dairy farmers.