Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Plants chew through peak milk

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Fonterra’s spring milk peak has been a daily intake in the low 80 million litres so far, the giant dairy processor’s manufacturing director Alan van der Nagel says.
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“We haven’t hit peak yet but we must be getting pretty close.”

Warmer weather in the far south might push the peak to near last season’s 85m litres/day, he said.

Milk production in most dairying regions is even or a little behind this time last season except in Canterbury, where it is ahead.

Cold, wet weather has dragged Otago-Southland the furthest behind and that means South Island milk flows have yet to peak, van der Nagel said.

The North Island production is at peak or very close to it with perhaps only 500,000 litres a day more to come.

The latest figures from the Dairy Companies Association say milk production was up 0.7% in September compared with September 2018 and season-to-date is running 2% ahead.

But those figures were three to four weeks before the season’s peak and October has included considerable weather variability.

Late winter and early spring production was good throughout the North Island but that impetus has slowed, van der Nagel said.

Daily collections in upper and lower North Island areas are even on last year while Waikato is perhaps a little behind on some days.

All 30 of his NZ manufacturing plants are operating and the bigger powder plants are going 24 hours, seven days a week.

At this time of year about 55% of all milk goes into whole or skim milk powders, van der Nagel said.

His job is to fill priority orders of higher-value products like cheese, creams and proteins while ensuring all milk is processed every 24 hours.

Plant reliability is the key factor as peak milk flows back up very quickly if any breakdowns occur.

Power outages have been minor so far and confined to Northland and Taranaki.

Northland plants are running full and in Waikato there is a little spare capacity at Morrinsville and Tirau.

The newest drier, at Lichfield, began three weeks earlier this year and is at full capacity to use its leading efficiency.

Without Lichfield more sub-optimal products at lower prices would have to be made in Waikato.

Plants in Taranaki are at maximum throughput as is Pahiatua and the Longburn casein plant is operating to share the load.

The Nelson plants are operating and the Tuamarina reverse osmosis plant near Blenheim is feeding concentrated milk to Darfield in Canterbury, where the biggest driers are flat out.

The Clandeboye driers are operating at maximum throughout and all cheese plants likewise, including mozzarella three when driers are being washed.

“It wasn’t intended to be full in year one but have more mozzarella capacity as market demand increases,” he said.

The same pertains to the new cream cheese plant at Darfield, now operating at 45-50%.

Further south all the smaller plants are full with only Edendale having spare drier capacity.

Nonetheless Edendale is taking in the largest volume of milk daily compared with all other Fonterra sites.

Fonterra is concentrating 1.6m litres of milk at Longburn and loading out 16 rail wagons every day from Manawatu to Taranaki.

It has 1600 drivers employed in round-the-clock shifts in the company’s 484 tanker and trailer units picking up an average of 8000 litres a day from each of 10,000 farms.

Contracted drivers and units are used for plant-to-plant movements, he said.

Tatua Co-operative had an exceptionally early season with a peak intake of just under 860,000 litres in one day in late September, about two weeks earlier than last year.

“The relatively dry and warm winter meant that pasture continued to grow throughout and there was very little pasture damage during July and August when the rain did come,” co-op affairs general manager Paul van Boheemen said.

The early start was welcome after three slow seasons previously and the peak was 5% higher than 2018.

The Tatuanui site is still receiving 800,000-plus litres a day and season-to-date processing is ahead of several recent seasons, he said.

Colder weather in late winter meant Miraka farmers on the Central Plateau started the season slowly, being 3% behind last year in August and September.

“October’s intake has been the same as last year but we haven’t caught up on the slow start yet and are still 1.7% behind, from the same cow numbers,” milk supply general manager Grant Jackson said.

Miraka is at peak milk now, he said.

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