The dairy industry in Columbia

Colombia is located in the northwest part of South America, and it has an area of 440.831 square miles and is in a privileged geographical location because of its proximity to the equator line. Colombia is located in the tropical zone of the planet, and its climate is the result of a three branched subdivision of the Andes mountain range and the sea coasts of the Caribbean and Pacific with high humidity and the Alisios winds.

The rainy seasons are bimodal, being from April to June and August to November. The country is very pleasant as it enjoys constant sunlight throughout the year, with the same number of hours during the day and night. There are six natural regions, each having unique characteristics; however, the zones with potential for meat and milk production have been classified into five specific regions: Caribbean (beef and dairy), Andina (mostly dairy), Orinoquia (beef), Valles Interandinos (beef and dairy) and Altiplano Cundiboyacence (only dairy). Each region has characteristic flora and fauna, but it is possible to classify these regions into two major areas having similar conditions such as: temperature, precipitation, altitude, and soil type.

The majority of the land in Colombia is used for livestock. Within approximately 32.2 million hectares, there are 3 types production distributed: beef cattle (13.7 million head), dual purpose cattle (8.2 million head), and specialized dairy cattle (1.5 million head). The total number of cattle in Colombia in 2011 was approximately 23.4 million (15.5 female and 7.9 male). About 90% of the cattle are the Brahman (Cebu) breed and crosses with Brahman, used for milk and meat production. The remaining 10% of the breeds are Holstein, Normando, Brown Swiss, Jersey, Simmental, Angus, and Charolais.


Characterization of the dairy industry in Colombia

Colombia is fourth in milk production of the 19 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil, Argentina and Mexico occupy the top three positions, respectively. Of the total livestock in Colombia, about 41% are dedicated to milk production, 55% are dual purpose, and 45% are specialized dairy. The total production in 2011 was about 14,452 million pounds of milk. Of the total milk produced, only 53% is processed in the industry, while the remaining 47% is purchased by intermediaries for bulk sale to industry (26%), processed on farm (10%), consumed on farm (8%), or used for other purposes (3%). Milk product consumption for Colombians in 2011 was 320 pounds per person per year of milk fluid equivalents.

Comparatively for the same year in the U.S., production was 196,245 million pounds of milk, equivalent to 58.5 pounds per cow and consumption was 604 pounds per person per year for all milk products. In 2011, Colombia exported roughly $5.45 million of milk products, while imports for the same year totaled $44.4 million.

Major imports included milk powder (52.9%), whey (36.4%), cheeses (6.2%), and other products, such as yogurt, butter, and fluid milk (4.5%), primarily from Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. The price of milk in Colombia in January 2012 was approximately $0.48 per liter ($21.82 per hundredweight) in USD, while the price of milk in the U.S. for the same date was about $0.36 per liter ($16.36 per hundredweight) in USD.

It is cheaper to produce one liter of milk in the U.S. than in Colombia. With the cost of milk production in Colombia being very high, it is impossible for Colombian producers to compete in international markets. Even though productivity in Colombia is growing, the producer is constantly seeking other alternatives to increase production in order to enter the global marketplace. However, maximizing production is challenging, as the model of production in Colombia is mostly pasture based. In addition, the cost of supplementing concentrates is more expensive than in other countries, as the U.S. is the major producer of corn in the world. Also, the roads and transportation infrastructure in Columbia are more than 60 years old.


Dual purpose system

Dual purpose animals comprise the majority of the total cattle inventory in Colombia. Most of the cows in this system are for milk production, or produce milk for cheese, as these breeds have a higher content of milk solids over breeds of other production systems. Dual purpose breeds are type Bos indicus, crosses of Bos Taurus x Bos indicus and native breeds. This system occupies the low tropical regions, such as the Caribbean and Valles Interandinos. The production system can be one of three types: pasture extensive, pasture improved extensive, and pasture extensive with concentrate supplementation. Pasture extensive is the most common type because it is the cheapest system for milk production. In 2011, this system supported an average of 7,949 million-pound equivalent to 15 pounds per cow per day. This low performance is a direct result of poor quality pastures, effects of climate, low utilization of feedstuffs, and a high incidence of diseases and parasites.


Specialized dairy systems

Specialized dairy systems generally are in the colder climates of the Andina and Altiplano Cundiboyacense regions, but they also exist in some regions of Valles Interandinos where the climate permits this type of production. These systems (most comparable to conventional U.S. dairy farms) have superior production in comparison to the dual purpose systems. The specialized dairy farms use more supplementation while having different management styles and employ pasture rotation. In 2011, this system supported about 6,426 million pounds of milk, resulting in 45 pounds per cow per day. This more than doubles the production of dual purpose systems. In order to achieve this high production, this system has extensively improved pasture, extensive pastures with supplementation, and confined systems (the last two systems are found more frequently. The cost and the total solids are different between dual purpose and specialized dairy systems; specialized dairy systems have a higher price per pound of milk with less total solids as compared to a dual purpose system. In this system, the major type of cattle is Bos Taurus with Holstein as the most popular breed, followed by Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and Jersey.



There is considerable opportunity for improvement within the dairy industry in Colombia. As the country continues to develop, there is a greater demand for dairy products. This demand encourages growth and advancement of the current systems. For these reasons, farms are beginning to implement new strategies for increasing production, such as genetic programs, nutritional strategies for improving milk quality, water management, soil test based fertilization programs, intensive pasture management via rotational grazing and forage seeding, record keeping, and enhancement of reproduction programs. As more innovative agricultural practices are introduced to Colombia, the dairy industry will likely improve accordingly.

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3 thoughts on “The dairy industry in Columbia”

  1. Interesting article. You say “It is cheaper to produce one liter of milk in the U.S. than in Colombia” but do not give any figures on this. How much does it cost to produce one liter of milk in Columbia and how much is this that what it costs in the USA?.

  2. cordial saludo desde Tuquerrres-Nariño-Colombia, Deseo saber como puedo implementar un sistema de producccioin lechero, sin tener como base fundamental los pastos. Existen productos quimicos que me ayuden a mejorar rendimientos lecheros…? deseo saber de que pais los puedo importar si fuera el caso. gracias.

  3. Hi Ginna, you mentioned that Guernseys are the 2nd most populous breed in Colombia behind crossbreds and Holsteins. In another article you mentioned that there are nearly 200,000 Guernseys in Colombia, could you provide additional information about who has Guernseys and where they purchase their semen. Thanks Brent

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