by SUSAN MANN
Organic dairy farmers Kathie and Francis Groenewegen have found a way to branch out so their adult children can earn a decent living from their small operation.
The Groenewegen’s children, Patrick, 22, and Olivia, 20, both want to farm. But Kathie says their Kingston-area farm is too small for everyone to make their living. The 300-acre farm is in Elginburg, 10 minutes north of Kingston. Along with milking 30 cows, they have a small organic egg and meat business with beef, chickens, turkey and pork. They sell their products from the farm gate.
For the past 10 years the Groenewegens have contemplated establishing an on-farm fluid milk processing business. Now the couple is in the planning stages and hopes to have it established by the fall of 2011.
To do so, they have become part of a pilot program developed by Dairy Farmers of Ontario to encourage on-farm fluid milk processing. Called Project Farmgate, the program provides market development support, including staff support in working with the Ontario agriculture ministry on matters related to plant approval. In return, the farmers are to provide the business knowledge they acquire to Dairy Farmers.
The Groenewegens plan to process fluid milk, skim, one per cent, two per cent and whole, in glass bottles along with table cream. They’ll eventually expand into yogurt, butter and cheese. Their products will be sold from an on-farm retail store and they’re planning to do home delivery into Kingston.
Kathie says there’s a lot of interest in local food in their area. “We already have a small clientele built up.”
Extending their farming operation into milk processing will enable their children’s strengths to shine. Kathie says Patrick, who already farms with them, excels in working with machines. Olivia is studying organic agriculture at the University of Guelph. She’s good with people and loves the farming portion of the business.
Another family establishing an on-farm processing plant through the program is John and Bonnie den Haan, who farm just south of Alliston. Like the Groenewegens, they’re in the preliminary planning stages of setting up their plant.
The den Haans plan to produce whole, unhomogenized white and chocolate milk that’s pasteurized for a longer time but at a low temperature. “It just improves the taste so much,” Bonnie says. The den Haans milk 52 cows and produce 1,600 litres a day.
“People are asking for it so we decided it would be a good time to do that,” she says, noting consumers want to know where their food comes from.
Their milk will be sold in glass bottles from an on-farm retail store. “I can’t wait to get the product out there so people can taste it,” she says.
Bill Mitchell, Dairy Farmers assistant communications director, says the organization’s representatives were inspired to start the program last year after visiting on-farm fluid milk processors in the United States to gather information.
Dairy Farmers is looking into on-farm fluid milk processing in Ontario because with the move to niche and local marketing it “was thought to be a logical extension of something we might examine,” Mitchell says.
Dairy Farmers has contributed $50,000 to the project. The organization has also applied to the Ontario Rural Economic Development Fund for matching funds.
On the farm side, the farmers will continue to be regulated and paid by Dairy Farmers. All of the deductions for research, administration, transportation, promotion and CanWest DHI, still apply to their milk. On the milk processing side the farmers will need a license from the agriculture ministry and have to meet its regulations.
Mitchell says “to us he’s a farmer and he’s a processor” and it’s completely separate. The location of both the farm operation and processing plant on the same premises is “almost immaterial to us.”
Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says all processors of fluid cow’s milk have to meet the same regulatory requirements regardless of size or location.
Four dairy farms in the province already do on-farm processing of milk into products, like yogurt, ice cream and cheese. But so far there hasn’t been any on-farm fluid milk processing in Ontario. BF