Maleny Dairies has quietly invested $6 million in major upgrades to increase its factory’s capacity and speed up delivery to customers.
“We want to keep the dairy industry alive up here with Maleny and the Mary Valley,” owner Ross Hopper said.
“We definitely want it to move forward positively and not backwards.”
Mr Hopper is so determined to prove they have happy cows and transparent animal welfare practices, video from the home farm in the lush Sunshine Coast hinterland is livestreamed via ‘cowcam’.
Maleny Dairies general manager Peter Falcongreen said the investment was the largest in the family-owned company’s history.
“It probably equals all the other previous investments, so it’s been a huge, quantum shift for us.”
A new elevated silo feeds millions of small plastic pellets into a new recyclable bottle blowing plant and the filling line has been upgraded to improve speed by up to 50 per cent.
“We’ve changed to bulk delivery to depots, we’ve got a depot in Caboolture and we’ve got a depot in Ormeau,” Mr Falcongreen said.
“If we’re doing bulk delivery we’re now palletized so we’ve had to buy forklifts and palletizers, plus we’ve had to buy prime movers and pan techs. There’s over a million dollars just in that equipment.
“We’ve had to redesign our loading dock, we’ve had to upgrade the size of our vats to accommodate the growth that we had last year.”
Maleny Dairies’ white milk sales soared by 70 per cent in 2016 as consumers rushed to show they supported dairy farmers in the wake of Murray Goulburn and Fonterra retrospectively slashing the price they paid to distraught suppliers.
It helped the family-owned company offer contracts to another two farms, paying all 10 of its suppliers 62–72 cents a litre for their milk. Norco and Parmalat’s average prices are around 57–58 cents a litre.
“We’ve got other farms that definitely want to come online and supply us and we can’t do that unless we advance in sales,” owner Ross Hopper said, as he explained the reasoning behind the record investment into the expansion of his business.
The company is positive about the future, although Mr Falcongreen said sales had slipped since the heady heights of last year’s 70 per cent increase in demand.
“Our sales have come off roughly about 15 per cent, so it’s quite a lot for us, in terms of white milk I would say about 20,000 litres a week,” he said.
“I’m not sure if it’s down to affordability, the cost of living is going up and we know how expensive our milk is and it’s very expensive compared to ‘dollar’ milk.
“We know that Queensland’s behind us emotionally and when they can they choose our milk but perhaps at the moment they can’t choose our milk and if dollar milk is presented you know it’s got a great role to play for people that can’t afford food. We’re not going to complain about that either.”
Maleny Dairies is competing on quality. Next week it will learn if its creamy Farmer’s Choice gold top milk is judged the nation’s best, for the second year running, in the Australian Grand Dairy awards.
Ross Hopper may not be able to beat dollar-a-litre milk, but he has joined forces with supermarkets to compete against it on the shelves.
Independently owned IGAs are big supporters and he said 42 Woolworths stores now stock the Maleny Dairies brand, which is prized for its rich guernsey milk.
“We’re positive all the time, not aim for the negatives and not stick our heads in the sand,” Mr Hopper said.
“We’ve been supplying Woolworths about 12 years now and we’re gradually and steadily moving forward with them.
“Another seven shops took us on recently and we’ve had a few more that have been promised as well, so that is good.”
Farm tours and social media have provided powerful means to connect direct with customers. Nearly 90,000 people follow Maleny Dairies on Facebook.
Maleny Dairies has an adoption program for bobby calves and ‘cowcam’ live streaming.
“Cowcam’s been a project that we’ve been dreaming about for the last 10 years and it wasn’t until recently that it’s actually become achievable and affordable,” Mr Hopper said.
“Our first designs were a saddle with solar panels and battery packs and now it’s obviously slimmed right down. The first cows I don’t think would have been real happy with us, I think they’d be going ‘Oh, we’ve got to wear this today’.
“Now it’s that light it’s no worse than your handbag there.
“We are that proud up here that we’ve got nothing to hide, that we’ve got a cow running around free range in the paddock (streaming live).
“It’s about being proud of what we’re doing and sharing it with the public.”