Stanhope's dairy factory celebrates 100 years of processing milk

Stanhope's dairy factory celebrates 100 years of processing milk

Dairy
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A lot has changed since the factory opened in 1921.

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One-hundred years ago when Stanhope's dairy processing factory opened, farmers would bring their milk on horse and cart in 60-litre cans.

A century on, farmers entrust truck drivers with their produce, who bring up to 42,000 litres of milk into the factory at a time.

Over the years, the factory has stood the test of time through multiple ownership changes, a fire which destroyed the plant completely and several upgrades and expansions.

Now owned by Fonterra Australia, the site has the capacity to process up to two million litres of milk a day.

"In 1921, they were making 100 tonnes of cheese a year and today we can make 100 tonnes of cheese in 14 hours," Fonterra regional operations manager Steve Taylor said.

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Mr Taylor has only been managing the site for two years, but knows from growing up in northern Victoria the plant is a part of Stanhope's fabric.

And perhaps part of that is because of the site's strong retention of staff.

More than 30 people are in the factory's 25-year club, while the site's longest serving employee, James Harris, has been part of the workforce, now quality assurance, since 1972 - some 48 years.

Only a few years ago, a staff member on the maintenance team retired after 50 years.

It is because of these long-serving staff members and their relationships with dairy farmers like Graham Nurse, Stanhope, that the factory exists today.

"I know everyone in Stanhope and everyone that works at the factory and it's good to support something that is part of our town," Mr Nurse said.

"I know all the managers on site and our families know each other so that's why we've always stuck with them."

The Nurse family has supplied milk to the plant for more than 50 years, when Mr Nurse's grandparents started dairying.

His parents also worked in the plant; his mother in administration and his father holding several roles before they took on the family dairy farm.

"While there's a factory in Stanhope, I will always supply to it," he said.

Site plays an important part of dairy's history

In the 1970s, the Stanhope Dairy Co-Op, the longest owner of the site from 1923 to 1971, worked with the CSIRO to develop a new cheese making process that formed the basis of how cheese is still made today.

The collaboration helped develop a new way to drain the whey from the curd to start the cheddaring process.

"Before that, the cheese was made in a vat and the operator would have to lean in and pull the curd off the whey so started the process away from manual handling," Mr Taylor said.

Fonterra's association with the plant dates back to 2001 when the company bought a 25 per cent share in the then Bonlac-owned site, later buying out its predecessor in 2005.

In 2014 an electrical fire destroyed the plant and led to an 18-month rebuild which included more than 7500 metric tonnes of concrete poured.

"The only reason that's happened is because farmers and the community have always supported the site," Mr Taylor said.

The company planned to hold a centenary celebration at Stanhope, however, the event was postponed due to the latest coronavirus lockdown.

The plant now boasts 180 workers and makes cheeses including cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, romano, gouda and mozzarella.

It also makes AMF, ghee and milk powders.

Fewer than 10pc of products produced at the Stanhope site are exported, while about 25pc of its cheese varieties are sent overseas.

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The story Stanhope's dairy factory celebrates 100 years of processing milk first appeared on Stock & Land.

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