By Anne Hardie

For about $250,000, dairy farmers can set up a pasteurised milk business to run alongside their existing farm operation and add another income stream.

Richard Houston is in the business of setting farmers up to sell pasteurised milk, usually as a sideline to their supply milk operation and all processed within the confines of a 20ft container.

His parents began selling milk to the public a decade ago and today he sells Italian dispensers that can be set up on the farm or in town to sell raw or pasteurised milk. In the past his family ran Village Milk in Golden Bay where they sold raw milk at the farm gate to the public without a problem for 10 years. 

Despite a devout group of customers who drove out to the farm to collect milk, government rules wouldn’t allow them to have a dispenser in town to grow the business sufficiently and they closed shop earlier this year.

It’s why today he says farmers wanting to sell raw milk need to be close to a sizable population where they are handy to customers who don’t need to drive far out to the farm. Whereas pasteurised milk can be transported to dispensers in the community and that makes it easily accessible to grow the business.

‘It’s adding another business that operates beyond the current business and the next generation may be more interested in marketing, branding and social media.’

MPI has 25 registered farm dairy operators on its website for processing Regulated Control Scheme (RCS) raw milk for the purpose of sale. It is an industry that has struggled to make much headway since the Government introduced the scheme in 2015 and Richard says it appears to be designed to be as restrictive as possible to constrain growth.

It is still achievable to produce raw milk for sale with those rules – which is why there are 25 operators around the country doing it – but he says it comes down to attention to detail and that isn’t for everyone. It’s all about hygiene above and beyond the usual farm dairy practices.

Raw milk is the ultimate way to sell milk, he says, because it is an incredible product with good bacteria, amino acids and simply a good food. For those not game enough to take it on though, or distant from a sizable population, pasteurised milk is an easier option to sell fresh milk to a growing market. It is a fraction of the milk from the same herd supplying the dairy company, diverted to a facility to pasteurise it instead of the vat, but with extra care along the way.

Through his business, Village Vending, he sets farmers up with a 20ft container as the processing facility, complete with a boot exchange area leading to the equipment for pasteurisation and dispensing. Two DF Italia dispensers are set up at suitable locations for customers to fill their own bottles of milk or can be used for other products such as frozen ice cream. Dispensers can also be installed in trailers so it can be transported to markets or events to sell milk.

Like other processed foods, there’s protocol to follow that includes testing the product as well as annual audits, but he says it is achievable. Once processed, the milk sells for about $3 a litre – or slightly less if competing with other fresh milk brands. He says unlike the fluctuations of milk payouts, it adds a stable income source to the farm business.

An increasing number of farmers are supplying milk to local customers and Houston says it is being driven by customers themselves who are replacing plastic bottles with glass and want to know the source of their food.

Farmers get more for the milk they are selling to local customers so there’s the financial appeal, but also another business venture that often appeals to the younger generation on a family farm.

“It’s adding another business that operates beyond the current business and the next generation may be more interested in marketing, branding and social media.”

Establishing a brand is the first step in selling milk, he says. The product speaks for itself and needs little promotion and farmers don’t need major advertising when they are targeting the local community. Sponsoring the kids’ sports clothing to promote the brand and getting out there on social media such as Facebook or Instagram attracts more customers. 

“It comes back to the fact that people want to spread the word about good food.”

It is helped along by the increasing demand for buying local, buying fresh and reducing the amount of plastic around food.

“My goal would be to see milk produced locally by local people. You might be milking in the afternoon, pasteurise it and deliver it in the morning. It is less than 48 hours old and in your fridge, in your house and in a glass bottle that you refill.”