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NMSU specialist uses computer modeling to help dairy farmers

CLOVIS - When Victor E. Cabrera considers the dairy industry in New Mexico, he sees more than cows, milking machinery and stacks of hay bales. He also envisions a dynamic system that can be computer-simulated to study ways to make it work as efficiently as possible.

New Mexico State University computer modeling expert Victor Cabrera, right, meets with Nature's Dairy owner Jerry Greathouse at the dairy south of Roswell. Greathouse gave Cabrera a tour of the dairy's accelerated calf program, which shortens the time it

Cabrera, a native of Peru, joined New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in March as a dairy specialist, researcher and assistant professor. He is based at the Agricultural Science Center at Clovis, but has statewide responsibilities.
Cabrera is bringing his extensive research background to the $1 billion-a-year dairy industry in New Mexico, which includes more than 170 dairies.

"I am looking forward to the challenge of working in the real world," Cabrera said. "I thought, here in the real world, my research is going to be much more applied."
Cabrera comes to New Mexico from the University of Miami in Florida, where he worked as a postdoctoral research associate from 2004-06. He developed farm simulation models that used optimization methods to evaluate climate forecasts, looking at various climate, price and government farm program scenarios.

From 2001-04, Cabrera was a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Florida in graduate courses on farming systems research and extension and the economic analysis of small farm livelihood systems. He also researched seasonal climate impacts on cow-calf operations and nutrient flows from dairy operations and their environmental impacts.

Cabrera is wasting no time in getting involved in New Mexico's dairy industry. Already, he has met with a number of dairy farmers and Sharon Lombardi, executive director of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico, which involves about 80 percent of the state's dairy farmers in its membership. He's working on an Internet Web portal that would include information about events of interest to dairy farmers, literature on current issues, training material, prototype simulation models and other content.

"Dairy farmers in New Mexico and West Texas are progressive and busy people," he said. "They or their managers have access to the Internet and they would like to have the information they need in just one place, from which they could retrieve it quickly and efficiently."

Cabrera is collecting data from cooperating dairies to develop computer simulation models based on New Mexico dairies that will be used to study how dairy practices can be optimized.

"I am going to look at data that is common to all dairies and then represent any dairy by adjusting it," he said. "We can see what's happening in real time at a dairy and forecast what would happen in the whole dairy farm system when there is a change in any of its components."

The most common feedback he's received so far from dairy farmers is the need for more information and work about environmental concerns, which he plans to concentrate on in his modeling.

"Dairy farmers are required to comply with an ever-changing and not always well-defined set of regulations," he said. "Although compliance has strong economic implications, environmental concerns and problems cannot be solved with money alone. Creativity and sound science play an important role in identifying, testing, implementing, and designing 'best management practices' that go beyond compliance and towards environmental stewardship."

Cabrera earned a bachelor's degree and Engineer in Agronomy degree in 1993 from La Molina Agrarian University in Lima, Peru, a master's degree in agricultural education and communication in 1999 from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary ecology in 2004 from the University of Florida. From 1998 to 2004, he was named Outstanding International Student at the University of Florida with a 4.0 grade point average.

Cabrera worked as a consultant from 1999-2001 for the Inter-American Development Bank in Lima, Peru, where he developed extension programs and training for small farmers. He was a professor in the Agricultural Technical College at the Valle Grande Rural Institute in Caņete, Peru, from 1994-1997, and managed a small farm and dairy in Lurin, Peru, from 1993-1994. He has published and presented numerous papers and is a member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.