Friday, July 1, 2022

Raw milk on tap

Sandwiched between Nelson and Richmond, the Raine family’s dairy farm is ideally placed to step into selling raw milk to the bustling public on its doorstep. In May two vending machines will be set up on the edge of the sprawling Saxton Field Sports Complex that borders the farm, to offer raw milk from its A2 herd under the name Oaklands Milk. Town supply milk is nothing new to the Raine family as they produced it for nearly 80 years until Fonterra finally ended an era last year. But now it will be leaving the farm in imported Italian bottles rather than the entire milk production heading down the drive in a milk tanker.

The Raine family has been farming their 460ha farm since 1842, so with that kind of family heritage they have to make it work. Selling raw milk seemed a good option to replace the winter milk contract of the past. The farm is a mix of dairy, dairy support, beef and forestry, with the 90ha milking platform rising to steep hills bordering the well-traversed Barnicoat Range behind.

On the milking platform, 220 Friesian cows and a handful of Ayrshires have already been tested for A2, with 50% falling into A2-A2. The family has a second dairy farm that milks 350 cows at Motupiko, further out in Tasman, so by selecting cows from both herds, they plan to have only A2 cows at the Nelson farm for the fresh milk venture.

Julian Raine is probably better known for his horticulture links as a partner in Wai-West Horticulture which grows kiwifruit, boysenberries and apples, and Hinetai Hops which concentrates on hops and blackcurrants. Between his commitments as managing director of Berryfruit Export NZ Ltd and the ten horticulture and agriculture boards he sits on, he's walking the rows of the different crops and keeping up to date with the issues on the family dairy farms.

His grandfather, Dick, helped set up Nelson Milk Products a couple of generations ago and became its first chair, while Julian was its last chair until they became Kiwi suppliers and ultimately Fonterra. For the past few years, the Raines and two other dairy farms in the area managed to retain the winter contracts essentially as a backload for Fonterra tankers delivering product to Talleys in Motueka.

New opportunities

When the contracts ended, Julian started to ponder options for the farm.

"There seems to be a groundswell of people saying ‘I'm a bit suspicious of what I'm buying’," he said.

In Europe, the demand for fresh milk varied from country to country, he said, but until their winter milk contract finished, he hadn't considered the opportunities for it here.
"And I'd seen vending machines in Europe, but the penny hadn't dropped until necessity became the mother of investment."

Village Milk in Golden Bay had a good response when it began selling raw milk towards the end of 2011 and its success helped convince Julian of local demand for the product. He knows people who travel an hour-and-a-half over the Takaka Hill to get their fresh, unpasteurised milk.

"There's nothing removed and nothing added, so you're getting full milk," he said.

With that groundswell for unpasteurised milk, Julian predicted a growing demand for raw milk in New Zealand. It's an option other dairy farmers are also considering, with several contacting him after finding out about the proposed venture through the grapevine.

Not one to miss out on an opportunity, Julian now has the agency rights for selling the Latteria dispensing machines that he sourced from Italy.

"They're basically a glorified fridge with a stainless steel canister inside and we're putting in two 300 litre machines."

The vending machines will be housed in a wooden kiosk also imported from Italy that is part of the Latteria range. By law, they can sell up to five litres of milk/person/day and it must be sold on the property, so it's pretty handy to be able to set up on the edge of the carpark at Saxton Field. On a winter Saturday morning, the sports complex is crowded with Nelson and Tasman families taking part in netball, hockey and soccer. Basketball takes place in the stadium and there's a much-admired cricket oval and all-weather athletics track. It's still expanding, so the location couldn't be better.

Customers will be able to fill their own containers or buy glass bottles – even decorated with cute dairy cows – that have been imported from Italy as well.

"We’re going back to the future so people can reuse them."

While raw milk offers the full quota of vitamins and nutrients sought by its customers, hygiene is the major issue and Julian said they were required to develop a food safety plan for approval before they could begin selling the milk.

The venture is a family project, with members attending brainstorming meetings and working on a marketing campaign. They're banking on selling hundreds of litres of raw milk a day and reaping better returns than their past winter milk contract, and have enough belief in the venture to invest $1 million dollars in a new dairy.

Public view

Included in the dairy will be a glass-fronted viewing room where groups of the public will be invited to watch the cows being milked.

"We're wanting to get the public re-engaged about where their milk comes from," he said.

"In my eyes, most farmers are shunning the problem (of the urban public), but we're going to welcome them onto the farm."

The public already has quite an influence on the farm. It’s hard to avoid it when they’re bordered by town on two sides, a sports complex on another and well-used hill tracks above the farm. Though well shielded by trees that have been planted by successive Raine generations for the past 171 years, with heritage oaks among those standing, the farm's location still has its own challenges such as the hang gliders and paragliders that swoop down on the farm from the Barnicoat Range above and often land in the paddocks.

"They don't always appreciate that cows get startled and they can go through fences."

Fireworks are always a battle and there have been biggies such as the Opera in the Park finale at Saxton Field. As long as they are forewarned, cattle can be moved behind hills to protect them from the noise and visual assault. On one occasion, the opening of a local store included an unexpected big display of fireworks and they lost a bull when it went through a fence and broke its leg.

"The unannounced public displays can cost us half a day’s work to get stock back into the right paddocks and repair fences,” he said.

“But that doesn't happen often though."

In the end, he takes the view that they are part of the community and need to work with it, which is why they will invite groups into the dairy and show their side of the story.

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