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Texas A&M agriculture experts visit Baladna, Qatar branch campus

Published May 16, 2019

Texas A&M University at Qatar recently hosted a delegation of agriculture experts from its main campus in Texas to visit Baladna Food Industries, Qatar’s largest producer of fresh dairy, as well as to explore opportunities for collaboration.

“Coming to a facility such as the farm at Baladna is a unique opportunity for us to work in a very difficult environment,” said Dr. Dave Lunt, associate of Texas A&M Agrilife Research, who was part of the visiting research team. “The heat and humidity here make it very difficult to run a productive dairy because the cows would prefer to be in a more temperate climate. What we learn here can then be applied in Texas and also in other places where we work. This was a wonderful opportunity to get to see an amazing world-class dairy, one the likes of which I’ve never personally experienced. To see something go from conception to be a fully operating dairy at the scale at which they operate in just over 18 months is nothing short of amazing.”

Dr. Kamel Abdallah, CEO of Baladna, said, “We at Baladna are delighted with the Texas A&M delegation visit. It was productive as it identified several important areas of possible collaboration between Baladna and Texas A&M. We believe our collaborative work could become a model for industry-research institutions and joint activities that enhance the competitiveness of Qatar, as well as our organizations.”

The Texas contingent also included two faculty from the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M, Dr. G. Cliff Lamb, professor and department head; and Dr. Clare Gill, professor of animal genomics. The team’s focus during their visit was to see if they could bring their agricultural expertise to bear on some of the challenges that Baladna is facing as it grows. 

“When you have cows here, they have to be fed and they have to be milked every day, and they don’t care what challenges you face,” Lunt said. “So now that they are up and running, they can begin to do some research to test ideas at pilot scale rather than just implementing what is considered to be best management practice immediately. No one has ever had a dairy like this in this environment so now they can fine-tune their operations, and we hope to be able to add value to them as they improve their efficiency.”

In addition to engineering, Texas A&M University is known worldwide for its expertise and excellence in agriculture and the life sciences, which have been an integral part of Texas A&M since 1876 when it was founded as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. Texas A&M AgriLife supports healthy living for all Texans—and by extension, all citizens of the world—through the research of targeted agricultural practices that yield nutritious food sources, outreach programs that train community members on growing their own food, and preservation of natural resources via eco-friendly means, all while following practices that lead to stronger economies.

Gill said, “I think it’s amazing that the owners of Baladna had the audacity to build such a remarkable dairy in a country that doesn’t produce feed for dairy cattle. If you have cows, you have to feed them every day, all year round. So the logistical challenge has been a fascinating piece to me because that supply chain cannot fail.”

Lamb agreed and said, “A major challenge that we don’t get to deal with anywhere else in the world is the fact that everything that they have to do is imported. Baladna is truly a global business when you look at it. The cattle are being fed products from all over the world, and that’s not something we are generally exposed to when we have a large cattle operation in the U.S., for example, where we can source most of those products within the country.”

In addition to research, Gill said she sees many opportunities for Texas A&M agriculture students as well as workforce development that could be mutually beneficial to Baladna, Texas A&M and Texas A&M at Qatar. 

“One aspect that would be a tremendous opportunity for our students is working with the very diverse cultures that are present in Baladna and in the country,” Gill said. “Their workforce is made up of maybe 40 different countries speaking many different languages, and I think that is something that would be tremendous for our students to experience.”

Lunt also said having the Qatar branch campus here presents a tremendous opportunity for facilitating teaching, research and service collaborations between Texas A&M and Baladna.

“All over the world, we find in our work as agricultural researchers that we need to work in coordination with engineers,” Lunt said. “No one can work alone and have the impact that we need to have facing the challenges that we face on a global basis. Having engineers here will be a great benefit to us if we do develop a robust agricultural research program here.”

The visit was organized by Dr. Hassan S. Bazzi, associate dean for research at Texas A&M at Qatar, who said, “Texas A&M University has expertise and experience in a wide variety of areas, from engineering and agriculture, to veterinary medicine and beyond. Our branch campus here in Qatar is uniquely positioned to engage local industry, community and government and leverage the expertise available on our main campus for the benefit of the State of Qatar, its economy and its people.”