Food firm ready for predicted explosion in dairy industry

With the end of quota restrictions now in sight, Dairygold suppliers take stock of their progress to date.

Dairygold’s ultra-modern new processing facilities will ensure that the north Cork co-op is ideally placed to meet the anticipated surge in demand next year.

The co-op’s members are projecting output increases of 55% to 60% in the years following the end of EU quota restrictions from next April. Dairygold currently processes 960 million litres of milk supplied by its 3,000 members.

The increased milk output projected by Dairygold’s suppliers amounts to an extra 600 million litres per annum. On foot of a €33.5m investment in the site Castlefarm, Dairygold can now process 16m litres of milk plus 18m litres of whey a week at Mitchelstown alone.

Once the €83.5m ‘regeneration’ of the Mallow facility is completed next April, the north Cork co-op will have the capacity to process three million litres of milk a day, producing 450 tonnes of milk powder per day — up to four times its present capacity.

Much of the extra milk volume will be processed into powders for export customers, notably infant formula companies. Cheese and other dairy products will also be important. The key for the co-op and its members is that it now has capacity to meet predicted demand for more product.

Tim Healy, Dairygold director of milk processing, said: “The new plant required 24,000 tonnes of concrete and 4,000 tonnes of steel. We have plans for a new drying plant, that will give us capacity to process three million litres of milk a day. The new dryer will be built by next April, and it will be fully commissioned by January or February 2016. In four years from now, we will have the capacity to process 25 million litres of milk a week.”

A recent open day at Castlefarm offered great insights into how Dairygold and indeed the entire Irish dairy sector is set to evolve. Castlefarm is a multi-faceted processing complex which produces 88,000 tonnes of dairy products per year. The factory produces seven different production lines including: rennet casein, whole milk powder, skim milk powder and skim milk concentrate to infant formula standard, demineralised whey powder and demineralised whey concentrate — also for the infant formula sector.

The plant uses two separate sources of raw material and operates three separate manufacturing processes in order to produce these seven different product streams. Milk is used in the production of casein powder, whole milk powder, skim milk powder and skim concentrate.

Whey from Dairygold’s cheese plants at Mitchelstown and Mogeely and the casein process at Castlefarm is used to produce demineralised whey powder and concentrate. At peak production, 15 million litres of milk and 18 million litres of whey are processed each week.

The installation of a new six tonne/hour multi-purpose milk evaporator and dryer has increased the processing capacity to nine million litres per week. The new dryer called the NIRO 3 dryer has the capability to produce whole milk powder, skim milk powder and whey powder.

This state-of-the-art technology replaced the former 1970s plant with MVR technology which considerably reduces energy consumption. This builds on a strong environmental foundation at the site which generates 86% of its own energy. Some 80% comes from the on-site combined heat and power plant which reduced the site’s CO2 emissions by 26,000 tonnes/year. Another 6% comes from the 44,000 cubic meter Anaerobic digester which processes the site waste into biogas to generate energy.

One of the more impressive elements on the Castlefarm tour was the central packing hall which houses the new multi-purpose automated bag-off operation. This robotic system can pack all the powder varieties generated on-site at 22 tonnes per hour into either 25kg or one-ton bags for markets all over the world.

“In the 1970s, the bagging and packing were done manually,” said Eugene Murphy, Dairygold packing line manager. “Now the lines are fully automated. The new system has also extended the product’s shelf life to over 18 months, and enhanced the product’s ability to travel longer distances.”

The new automated bag-off robot uses a gas flushing system which removes oxygen from the product as it is bagged, to improve the shelf life of product for export. The bags’ special heat-sealed lining supports the gas flushing process.

Dairygold chief executive, Jim Woulfe, said: “Our post-quota strategy not only ensures that we will have the capacity in place to process all of our members’ milk in the post-quota era, but it also significantly improves our technological capability allowing us to produce higher value dairy ingredients.

“At the heart of our post-quota strategy is our new milk supply agreement with our suppliers and the Society. The milk forecasting element of this agreement gives Dairygold visibility of milk supply volumes for a number of years into the future.

“We have devised a modular expansion plan that allows additional milk processing capacity to come on-stream if and when needed. We expect to make additional investment in Mallow in the coming years to cope with our members’ further milk expansion.”


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