Texas Milk Transporter Responds To Shifting Market Production

Aug. 1, 1998
When many small Texas dairy farms were replaced by larger operations, and overall milk production declined, CD Ballard realized he would have to make

When many small Texas dairy farms were replaced by larger operations, and overall milk production declined, CD Ballard realized he would have to make some changes in his transport company to meet the demands of the shifting market.

"You've got to do more for less, and you've got to grow to stay in business," says Ballard, owner of CD Ballard Enterprises in Sulphur Springs, a small town 80 miles northeast of Dallas.

Also involved with the company are Ballard's two daughters, Tammy Ballard Acker, whose company, Ballard Drivers Inc, provides drivers and other employees, and Terri Monday, an owner.

"Our business is collecting raw milk from the farm," says Ballard. "We believe we are the largest farm pick-up company in Texas. Our trucks cover one million miles per month, and we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Having been a milk hauler for 30 years, Ballard's business acumen paid off as he acknowledged the need for expansion when market conditions changed drastically in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Company Purchase >From the time Ballard purchased the company in 1972, he had watched the Texas market slowly diverge from small farms with less than 100-cow herds to larger farms, some totaling as many as 1,000 head or more. Just as farmers operating small farms found it difficult to compete in the tightening market, so did small transport companies.

Gradually, Ballard expanded his own assets and acquired five trucking companies to accommodate the increased milk production that now comes from well-run smaller dairies and farms with larger herds. For many newer and larger farms, increased production means two to three milkings per day, which produces an abundance of the perishable product and calls for timely pick-up by a company large enough to handle the volume.

"To be successful, I think you have to be willing to adapt to market fluctuations and follow through accordingly," he says. "In the last four to six years, we have grown by purchasing other companies."

Ballard's fleet of more than 100 vehicles handles approximately 200 million pounds of milk per month loaded primarily in Hopkins and Erath Counties. The two counties dominate Texas milk production, generating a majority of the 5.7 billion pounds reported in 1997, according to a US Department of Agriculture milk market summary.

Ballard's most significant expansion came this year with the assumption of farm routes formerly operated by Associated Milk Producers Inc (AMPI). The merger of AMPI and Mid-America Dairies, both farmer cooperatives, into Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) provided the opportunity for Ballard to become an exclusive DFA contract carrier.

In addition to DFA's milk processing facilities, Ballard moves product to other major processors in several Texas locations, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Conroe, Tyler, San Antonio, Brenham, Austin, and Waco. A Sulphur Springs DFA plant and one at the neighboring town of Winnsboro also receive milk via Ballard. The trucks transport milk outside Texas as far east as Atlanta, Georgia, and west to Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Company History When Ballard, a Winnsboro resident and commercial tire dealer, bought Winburn Milk Co in Sulphur Springs, he was familiar with the milk hauling market from the many conversations he had with carriers and farmers who were purchasing tires for their vehicles. Winburn Milk Co operated 13 tractors and trailers, the trailers varying in capacity from 2,850 to 4,600 gallons. At that time, milk was hauled by independent truckers, but the situa-tion soon changed. Farmer cooperatives became the prevailing carriers. Ballard, an independent who continued to operate, retained the Winburn name and was in partnership with two other men. In 1990, he purchased their shares.

In 1972, farm pick-up carriers had just made the switchover from hauling milk in cans to tank trailers. Milk production in the Sulphur Springs area (Hopkins County) was taking off. By the 1980s, the county was the largest milk producer in Texas. However, in the next decade, Hopkins County was usurped by Erath County southwest of Dallas where farmers established large herds that increased milk production.

Today, Ballard has boosted his operations in Hopkins County to 80 routes with 70 trucks for 400 farms. In Erath County, 34 trucks travel 34 routes to 50 farms. In Hopkins County, Ballard hauls volume in peak periods of about 150 million pounds per month compared to the approximately 50 million pounds in Erath County that is transported.

However, he expects the volume to increase in this year's peak period, beginning in the autumn and continuing to spring, a period he has not covered since he acquired the DFA routes.

The Ballard fleet includes 130 stainless steel foodgrade tank trailers and 104 tractors, all company owned. During peak milk production, an occasional tractor is leased to keep up with the volume. On even rarer occasions, a tank may have to be leased. "We try to use the same truck to double or triple some of the local farm routes," he says.

While the company's corporate and central dispatching offices are in Sulphur Springs, Erath County operations are directed from an office in Stephenville, the county seat. All customer orders are initiated by DFA, come into the Sulphur Springs office by fax, and are relayed to the two dispatching centers.

Daily Schedule Loading at farms is done on a set daily schedule, and delivered as ordered and coordinated by DFA. Rural roads in northeast Texas are generally oil-topped and present little difficulty, but the older, smaller farms often have tight driveways that can test a driver's maneuvering ability, says Jimmy D Goldsmith, general manager. "Our producers always work with us and try to make it as easy as they can," he adds. "In Stephenville, the farms are newer and have longer and wider driveways."

Employees are lauded by Ballard who says they are the secret to his success. Although the booming milk market from 1970 through the 1980s acted as a catalyst for the company's initial success, he maintains that his employees provided the ongoing support. Goldsmith directs operations for the Sulphur Springs and Stephenville offices. Jake Mabe, safety director, leads safety, maintenance, and inspection programs. Gail Starnes is in charge of the Stephenville office. "I try to hire the best employees and then let them do their job," says Ballard.

In a time when the 4% unemployment rate has few people searching for a job, Ballard's standard for employee retention pays off. Turnover is low. Loyalty is evident in several men who have retired, but return regularly to the office to drink coffee and visit with their colleagues.

The company employs 150 people, 85 in Sulphur Springs and 65 in Stephenville. All receive in-house training based on job assignments. Maintenance employees are trained on site by experienced mechanics and conduct all vehicle inspections and repairs, with the exception of major overhauls. The shop is Department of Transportation (DOT)-certified.

Drivers carry a commercial driver license (CDL) with tank endorsement. They are trained with materials and videos that cover milk handling, including techniques used to measure the amount of milk in the farm storage tank and to take samples of the product for laboratory testing by the processor and the Texas Department of Health. A cash bonus program is set up to reward drivers who avoid accidents and moving traffic violations.

Radar Gun As part of the safety program, vehicles are inspected daily, and the company uses a radar gun to monitor company truck speeds. Safety director Mabe investigates accidents and ensures that drivers meet safety requirements.

Tractors and tanks are parked on the four-acre sites in Sulphur Springs and Stephenville. Offices in the two locations are the same approximate size, about 7,000 square feet, and each has a maintenance shop. Tank exteriors are washed at the terminals. After the milk is unloaded at the plants, the processors clean interiors through a clean-in-place (CIP) system with five-inch spray balls and two-inch lines.

Ten new tank trailers have been purchased for the Stephenville operation within the past four years as a result of the company's expansion there and the recent DFA contract. The majority of the fleet's 6,000- to 6,500-gallon stainless steel insulated tanks for both transport and farm pick-up are made by Walker Stainless Equipment Co Inc. A few are from Stainless Tank and Equipment (STE) and Brenner Tank Inc.

The rear two-door cabinet on the Walker trailers typically contains a 90-gallons-per-minute foodgrade ITT-Jabsco pump, and a two-inch, 30- to 35-foot lightweight hose. A NASCO sample box is mounted in the cabinet for milk sample equipment and storage.

The polystyrene- and polyurethane-insulated, 12-gauge stainless steel vessel is mounted on a lightweight aluminum cradle and frame.Running gear includes aluminum wheels, Centrifuse brake drums, and Consolidated Metco Inc aluminum hubs. The suspension is a Hendrickson Intraax.

Foodgrade Valves Thomsen foodgrade valves and fittings, Olson and Run-O-Vent vents, and Walker manhole lids and dust covers are all part of the tank specifications. Walker stainless steel ladders and safety platforms are mounted on the trailers.

Some tractors are equipped with air-ride suspensions to reduce wear on the milk tanks. "We are really pleased with the air-ride suspension," says Goldsmith.

The Mack CH613 tractors used in Sulphur Springs are powered by Mack engines rated at 355-380 horsepower, and come with nine-speed Mack transmissions, Spicer clutches, and Mack drive tandem.

In the Stephenville area, Kenworth T600 tractors are used. They have Detroit Diesel engines rated at 350 horsepower, Fuller nine-speed transmissions, Spicer clutches, and Rockwell tandem-drive axles.

Vehicle maintenance schedules include grease and fluid checks every 10 days and a 15,000-mile oil change. A service truck responds to local breakdowns where major repairs are required.

Maintaining the tractors and trailers in order to keep them on the road is essential for providing reliable service necessary for handling the sensitive product, says Ballard.

As for the future, he predicts milk production will level off as the industry conforms to the market correction. "The dairies that are still in business today are successful and generally have gotten larger," he says. "We expect our business to pick up."