LOGAN -- Two Utah State University dairy experts are working to enrich knowledge in Azerbaijan, a struggling country with limited information about modern dairy practices used around the world to increase animals' health and productivity.
USU's Kerry Rood and Allen Young made a summer trip to Azerbaijan, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan is 39 percent of the size of Utah, but has more than triple Utah's population.
"When they sought their independence and it was granted in the mid-90s, the financial support was no longer there," said Rood, a USU Extension veterinarian.
"Their education system has become challenged because of a lack of funding and a lack of support. Over the years it has degraded."
Rood and Young traveled as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service project aimed at helping the country upgrade its agricultural productivity and veterinary science program by bringing updated information to universities. The most recent trip was to Ganja, where a university is located.
"Most of the faculty are in their 60s and were educated in the former Soviet Union," said Young, a USU Extension dairy specialist. "They haven't produced new faculty yet to take their places when they retire. Over the last couple years, we've seen students learn more about dairy nutrition and health. In the future there will be more opportunities for change."
Faculty members were educated in the 1950s and 1960s, under the Soviet regime, Rood said.
"The key element really is a knowledge gap," he said. "Many of the professors are fine individuals, but their knowledge of dairy science has become outdated. That is improving with more access to the Internet and information that is out there. We were able to help them put those resources into their curricula so they can learn."
Young said dairy farmers have low productivity, in part because of low-quality feed. Cows graze on grass, which is plentiful in the spring, but less so the rest of the year. In the winter, cows feed on grass hay, but farmers harvest it too late, when much of the grass's nutritional content has gone into seed production.
So dairy cattle get too little food, and what they get is of low nutritional quality.
"They've come to understand feed value, and how to use feed for maximum production," Rood said of the professors.
The next step will be getting farmers to change their ways.
"The big disconnect is between cities and country," Young said. "With the grass hay, they just don't know they're supposed to be cutting it at a younger age. They do it the way their father did it and their grandfather did it, and everyone has done it for a hundred years."
Although cities may have at least slow Internet access, many farms operate without Web access and with limited electricity, Young said. Rood has visited the same university professors over a three-year period and said it was only on this last visit that they had any Internet access.
Young said the addition of grains would vastly improve cattle diet, but many dairy farmers have limited land for growing grain, and effective transport between regions is another area where Azerbaijan needs improvement. Because dairy farmers are unable to store or transport milk, most rural dairy output is made into yogurt.
Rood said he and Young expect to participate in the program for at least one more year and continue to support the educators they met with interactive Web seminars.
"Because of the time difference, we have to do it at 5 and 6 in the morning to work for their schedule," Rood said. "They have requested topics like dairy cattle surgery, and information on other kinds of livestock. They asked to learn about poultry health and medicine, and we are providing that through webinars."
Rood said he has found his years of work with the foreign professors and officials satisfying.
"This has been a very rewarding project for myself and Dr. Young," he said. "They are very gracious people, and it's exciting on a personal basis to help as they struggle toward (agricultural) independence. It's been fascinating to watch the country advance toward better independence, and a better life for its people."
Young said he hopes his work is having some impact.
"Some days I sit back and think what did I really accomplish," he said. "From my perspective it seems like it is changing slowly, but from the perspective of people who live and work there, they tell me the change has been quite dramatic by their standards.
"They have seen a lot of change at the university, and we hope that impact will reach the communities and they will see changes as well."