Damate’s Babayev Milks at 520 Cows Per Hour
Published: April 16, 2014 (Issue # 1806)
Naum Babayev remembers when canned meat was more sought after than money.
During the financial convulsion of 1998, Babayev realized that food was a good thing to have in a crisis. The meat was real, while money was a cruel joke.
Babayev is now at the cutting edge of Russian dairy farming. He extensively toured foreign farms to identify and co-opt best practices, but despite having a facility that has achieved milking speeds of 520 cows an hour, he has so far been unable to turn back the tide of dairy imports into Russia.
Babayev’s first model was Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. Boasting incredible cow comfort and harvesting the freshest milk with the latest technology, Fair Oaks left Babayev smitten.
He borrowed the layout and concept of the farm, toured another 40 to make sure that no new innovation was passing him by and built a business of his own in Russia.
Quitting his cousin’s poultry and pork producer, Cherkizovo, after its London share flotation, he set up Rusmolco in 2007.
In 2012, he sold a majority stake to a major trader in agricultural commodities, Singapore-based Olam International.
Deploying another of his companies, milk producer and turkey farmer Damate, Babayev partnered with dairy giant Danone last year to build large farms in Siberia and Bashkortostan that will ensure the French company’s local supply.
The Danone deal illustrates one of the paradoxes of Babayev’s career — the continued underdevelopment of domestic dairy. Dairy imports to the Russia-led Customs Union surged by 18 percent in the first 11 months of last year, according to the union’s governing body, the Eurasian Economic Commission.
In part, this is due to a lowering of tariff barriers after Russia’s accession to the WTO in 2012. In part, it is because production costs in Russia are still too high to compete with producers overseas.
Babayev sat down with The St. Petersburg Times to discuss the what he learned from U.S. farms and the tale of strikingly high competition to enroll in Indian colleges.
Q: How did your trips to U.S. farms affect your own business?
A: Russian agriculture has learned a lot from Western experience. I have had 15 years of observing farming practices, beginning with poultry.
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