Farm to Table- Ray Robinson (High Desert Milk)
Recently, as input costs have skyrocketed, more and more producers are turning to marketing their own product to consumers. While marketing a consumable product is not feasible for everyone, it can be an opportunity for some.
This week we will get to hear a few words of wisdom from Ray Robinson, as he shares some of his experiences of maximizing opportunities for growth as they come, and how he and some of his neighbors came to found High Desert Milk.
A LITTLE ABOUT RAY AND HIS GROWTH AND EXPANSION OVER THE YEARS
I built my first dairy myself and milked about 250 cows. I had one hired milker, and I fed and did all the other work.
In 1998 we started Moo Mountain Milk and built the first barn there. A couple years later we built a second barn and purchased the Butte Feedlot. Then a year or 2 later we bought East Ridge over towards Jackson. And then a couple years later we bought South Ridge over towards Golden Valley. About that time, we also took over the heifer yard over near East Ridge.
Presently, we have crossbred calves in the Harris Fed Yard, dairy heifers in the Simplot Feed Yard out to Malta and we also run an Organic Dairy (Nature Ridge) out in Raft River. All together totaling about 23,000 milking cows.
Some of our cattle are milked twice a day and some of them three times a day. We also farm a good amount of land. I oversee 10,000 acres of farm ground, and we farm considerably more. I never ever thought we would get this big.
In 2008 we started building High Desert Milk and in 2009 we started running it. As opportunities come, we just take them on keep moving forward.
WHAT GAVE YOU AND OTHERS IN YOUR GROUP THE IDEA TO START PROCESSING YOUR OWN MILK?
We came up with the idea just through different conversations we had with each other about what opportunities we could see were out there. Originally, there was 10 of us that sat down at the table to hash it all out. We all knew one another, but only 6 of us stayed to see it through, the other 4 got up and left that first meeting.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES YOU OVERCAME AS YOU BUILT YOUR PROCESSING PLANT?
Getting everyone on the board to agree with how to do it and what to do, was the hardest. At first, we would meet every week, now we meet about once per month, unless there is a pressing need.
Three different individuals owned the property that High Desert Milk sits on, we bought it, and construction began.
We started out making just a non-fat 34 powder. Today we also produce butter and MPC 70. We are looking at adding on again to do some other products that would fall in the class 4 market.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGES OF HAVING A FARMER OWNED PROCESSING PLANT?
It is an advantage, but also a disadvantage. We all bought quota in the plant, so we must stay within 10% of our quota, but it is nice to always have a home for our milk.
In the beginning our goal was to achieve an income equal to Class III. Sometimes we make a little extra money and sometimes we lose a little, but over the years I feel like we have averaged about that Class III price.
One thing that is nice when you are tied to a plant is that the people at the plant help you to know a little more of what the current market is doing.
WHERE ARE YOUR PRODUCTS SOLD?
Our product is marketed all around the world. To date, we have sold product in 49 different countries. Some is sold in the U.S.A., but the majority is export.
Originally, we started out just making one-pound cubes of butter, but as time went on, we started packaging our own quarter pound bars as well as picking up some contracts to manufacture for a few other brands. High Desert Milk Butter is sold locally in Ridley’s, Stoke’s, and WalMart stores in the “Idaho Products Section”
WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE ASPIRING TO PROCESS THEIR OWN MILK
When you first start, nothing will go like you think it will. It will all go backwards, but you have to prove to the public that you can make a quality product and do the things you say you will do. If you are going to do it as a group, make sure that you can all get along together.
Thank you, Ray, for sharing some of your insights regarding growth and milk marketing with us! We appreciate your knowledge and your commitment to provide quality milk products to the public.
Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.