CASINO’S Richmond Dairies has added another string to its bow with the official commissioning of a new butter plant.
The $1m Swiss-made continuous production machine churns out 500kg every hour and creates boxed commodity butter, in 25kg packs, that can last for 18 months in cold storage – hopefully long enough to see global dairy prices return to something that turns a profit.
Considering dairy was at an all time high just three years ago the notion of putting that commodity on ice makes dollars and cents.
Richmond Dairies is the only outlet for surplus milk from major processors between the Victorian border and Cape York.
It converts excess skim milk from its frozen cream processing line, as well as excess from other suppliers, and turns it into milk powder – owning the only such plant in NSW and Queensland. The new butter churn is also the only one in that vast area.
There’s not much to be gained by selling milk powder these days – that commodity sells for below the cost of production – but it is the only way to store perishable skim milk. Converting excess milk fat to butter is another way of waiting out poor prices.
The use of the new plant will only take place during times of excess, which may not happen again until the spring flush – or even longer, said company general manager Chris Sharpe.
Richmond Dairies, a subsidiary of the UK’s Longley Farm Group, is best known for making frozen cream that it exports to Asia and the Middle East. The company also supplies yogurt powder to other dairy brands.
The low-yielding market of China, which buys on price, has failed to attract this company.
“The butter plant is simply another string in our bow,” said Richmond Dairies’ chief financial officer Craig Kelly. “It gives us additional capacity to handle milk fat.
“It is about managing our supply to balance the peaks and troughs.”
Mr Kelly likened dairy production to a ship the size of Queen Mary. There is a gradual build up of supply and a long taper. “You cannot just put the brakes on if prices fall,” he advised.
Because the innovative company is not as exposed to commodity markets it is able to offer its suppliers a premium above $7/kg for milk solids – a long way above what Fonterra is offering its New Zealand farmers (Aus$3.50/kg) and what Murray Goulburn is doling out to its Victorian counterparts($475/kg).
But there are limitations to those who can supply – with Jersey herds rewarded for their higher milk fat and location limited to the eastern seaboard between Macksville in the Nambucca Valley and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Modern methods worlds away
THE exact science of modern dairy processing is a world away from what once was standard practice.
Former butter maker Martin Maloney worked at the Casino Co-operative Dairy Society factory all through the 1960s, making friends with the operation’s mechanic Ian Robinson, who started his employment a decade earlier.
Nowadays Richmond Dairies occupies the building in Dyraaba Street.
Back in those ‘good old days’ standard practice was a great deal less restrictive, and the pair easily recall amusing events – like finding a drowned rooster in a cream can.
“I just reached in and picked up that chicken by its two legs and squeezed the cream out of its feathers,” recalled Mr Martin – illustrating the action with his thumb and forefinger. “It all went upstairs to get pasturised anyway.”
Eric Daley The cream tester also provided amusement, as he dipped his wooden spatula into every can and tasted it, spitting out the mouthful much like a wine connoisseur.
“Whenever he got a bad batch he’d wrinkle up his face and do a little dance, in circles,” said Mr Maloney, grinning at the memory.
Back then off-batches of cream were dyed purple.
The co-operative had four large butter churns operating in its factory and also made skim milk powder, buttermilk powder as well as a calf milk powder branded Rich-N-Vite that was declared a market wonder by then general manager Cyril Vincent ‘Bill’ Barker.