Small Scale Dairy Processing Assistance Program
Helps Idaho Farmers Add Value to Milk and Sustain Their Operations
When Stacie and Steve Ballard first moved to Gooding 12 years ago, they had never milked a single cow. Now, the owners of Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese manage 100 Jersey cows and make five varieties of cheese curds, an Idaho white cheddar and an award-winning pepper cheddar. "You never know what's possible," says Stacie.
Indeed, making more things possible for Idaho's small-scale farmers is the reason that Jeff Kronenberg, University of Idaho Extension and TechHelp food processing specialist, asked the United Dairymen of Idaho to fund a new initiative this year. With $20,000 from that industry organization, the UI Department of Food Science and Toxicology, UI Extension and TechHelp Idaho have launched a two-year program to help Idaho's food entrepreneurs, dairy farmers and small-scale food processors design, process and sell high-profit dairy products. In addition to high-quality, hand-made artisan and farmstead cheeses, these products might include yogurt, butter, ice cream and bottled milk.
With economics favoring dairies that are milking 1,000 to 10,000 cows, Kronenberg says small-scale operators are struggling to stay afloat. "Adding value to milk is a strategy they can use as an insurance plan against fluctuating milk prices," he says. "We're concerned about the sustainability of agriculture in this state, particularly the overall success and financial viability of smaller operations. We're hoping that small-scale dairy processing will continue to grow in Idaho and that it will help preserve family dairy farms."
Stacie Ballard views the assistance the program offers as very mutual. "They're helping us be able to make an income that we can live with, and we're helping them bring income, commerce and tourism into the state." The bottom line, she says, is "saving a part of Idaho that has been here for years and that people want to see saved."
Kronenberg is guiding the Ballards through the paperwork necessary to meet Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points standards, a mouthful of regulations intended to protect consumers from food-borne illness. In addition, he puts them in touch with other cheese makers so that the Ballards can thoroughly explore the marketplace.
Kronenberg and his team of professionals will also provide on-site technical assistance to other qualified individuals, companies or farms. Among the potential services to these clients:
A master cheese maker can help them develop or refine their products.
Marketing experts can recommend strategies for optimum market visibility and increased sales revenues.
Food safety and food quality experts can advise them on how to prevent contamination, ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, and develop a quality-control program.
Extension dairy specialists can help their operations achieve optimal herd health and milk quality.
Food scientists can guide them in developing nutritional labels that meet FDA requirements.
Along with on-site technical assistance, the grant will also underwrite educational programs and future workshops on food safety, HACCP and developing food product ideas.
Idaho currently ranks third in the nation in cheese manufacturing. With an output of about 9 billion pounds of milk in 2004, Idaho ranks fifth in the nation in milk production. National sales of gourmet and specialty cheeses from cow, goat and sheep milk are climbing at a rate of about 4 percent each year and should reach $2.9 billion by the end of 2005. That strengthens Kronenberg's conviction that artisan and farmstead dairies can contribute materially to the Idaho economy. In addition, when small-scale dairy processors win awards like the Ballards do, that enhances the reputation of the entire Idaho dairy industry, he says.
For more information about program benefits and eligibility, contact Kronenberg at (208) 364-4937 or email@example.com.
Click here to watch a video about Idaho small scale dairy assistance and the Artisan and Farmstead Cheese industry in Idaho.