Arizona milk cooperative maintains steady, strong growth

Sept. 1, 2008
Arid Arizona may not seem like the land of milk and honey, but leaving honey aside, the state boasts 186,000 dairy cattle that produce 10 million pounds per day

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Arid Arizona may not seem like the land of milk and honey, but leaving honey aside, the state boasts 186,000 dairy cattle that produce 10 million pounds per day.

An average dairy farm milks a 1,800-cow herd, making the state rank 13th in the United States among dairy cooperatives and top in the country in per cow production.

Those statistics are no secret to Tom O'Carroll, distribution manager for the United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA) in Phoenix. Every day, he sees about 190 loads of milk hauled by the transportation division from 94 dairies to processing plants in Phoenix.

“Eighty percent of milk in Arizona is produced by our 70 co-op members,” says O'Carroll. The co-op has experienced considerable growth as the state's milk production has escalated. In 1994, about 100 members produced about 5.6 million pounds of milk per day, and the transportation division was hauling about 102 loads to keep up. By 2008, the association with just 70 members has almost doubled its volume of milk from the farms, transporting 10.3 million pounds per day in about 190 loads.

“This is a result of both Arizona's continued population growth and new markets for both fluid and dry milk ingredients,” says O'Carroll.

He points out that one farm milks a 10,000-cow herd in a double 77-parallel barn with six 15,000-gallon milk storage silos (tanks). Another operates two neighboring barns, each with an 80-cow carousel, milking two 4,000-head herds into six 12,000-gallon silos. Cows are trained to walk onto the carousels and stand in place while milking machines are attached.

UDA is a full-service cooperative. In addition to transporting milk, UDA inspects dairies, checks milk quality, delivers bulk supplies to farms, fills chemical tanks on site (reducing use of storage drums), and provides 24-hour milking equipment repair service. The cooperative also designs and manages the set up at new dairies.

The co-op's processing plant produces high, medium, and low heat nonfat dry milk (including vitamin fortified products), cream, butter, skim milk, condensed skim milk, several varieties of milk protein concentrate (MPC), and lactose powder. “We provide product for a cheese manufacturer on-site,” adds O'Carroll. “Our plant can process 10 million pounds of milk per day, and regularly acts as a balancing plant for other processors in the region. UDA is a large kosher milk facility, capable of producing over 1,000 metric tons of kosher powder within two weeks.”

Management must be adroit at ensuring the proper distribution of kosher loads, high protein milk, and product from dairies that do not use synthetic growth hormones.

O'Carroll manages the division with customer service for the members a top priority — and trains the drivers with that in mind. “These large herds are milked two and three times a day, so our trucks are always moving through the farms,” he says.

Drivers typically handle about 70,000 loads annually on routes. On an average day, a driver will haul three routes, averaging about 80 miles each. During the peak season, larger dairies produce enough for 12-14 loads per day while smaller dairies produce about one-to-two loads. UDA contracts with 10 individual drivers who themselves collectively employ over 86 drivers to pick up milk. Each contractor is assigned specific routes for their drivers to handle. Cindy Susoreny, O'Carroll's assistant, coordinates routing.

“Drivers are trained in the procedures for loading milk at the farms,” says O'Carroll. “When they arrive at the location, they are required to agitate the milk in the storage tank for 10 minutes, clean the farm's loading hose ends and valves, and take milk samples.”

Samples are taken from each silo or bulk tank to monitor product acidity, temperature, butterfat, protein levels, and antibiotic residue.

“Drivers have to be accurate,” O'Carroll notes. “The ticket they fill out is a legal document and the milk market administrator checks records for accuracy to ensure members receive correct payments.” (UDA is planning to replace the paper method with hand-held electronic devices that will automatically download the data.)

Roughly 75% of the loads are weighed by scales at the farms while the remaining 25% are stick-measured by the drivers. Weight is confirmed upon arrival at the processing plant.

Approximately 90% of drivers are assigned to local routes. “It's very good for driver retention because they go home every day,” O'Carroll says.

In the co-op's service area, drivers contend with a variety of highway conditions — some in rural areas with rough narrow roads and others in cities with traffic congestion. One route weaves five miles into the Gila River Indian Reservation via a gravel road that limits speed to 25 miles per hour. Drivers also have to be careful not to back into a dairy's mail box or other structures — or leave a gate open. Drivers become familiar with site-specific procedures as they regularly drive the same routes.

Since most of the drivers are local, they fall under the 100-mile radius rules that permits them to work 14 hours per day. If they work fewer than 12 hours, they are not required to fill in a transportation log, O'Carroll says.

The co-op requires driver applicants to be at least 23 years old with two years tanker experience. O'Carroll conducts driver training sessions annually that include company policies, Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Agriculture regulations, defensive driving, as well as the specific requirements for loading and sampling milk.

O'Carroll also uses a video produced by Chris Thompson, a dairy specialist at the University of Kentucky, that illustrates the requirements of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, which O'Carroll says is the bible of interstate milk commerce. The contract drivers supplement the classroom training by accompanying new drivers, or having one of their more experienced drivers provide coaching at the dairy.

The driver's role is part of the chain that gets the perishable product to market safely and efficiently. Milk hauling operates 24/7 just as do the dairies.

Sanitation and maintenance

To ensure a sanitary transportation of the product, interiors of the 68 co-op tank trailers are washed every 24 hours at UDA's on-site facility. Six receiving bays at the plant are equipped with clean-in-place (CIP) systems. An on-site automated exterior cleaning bay washes tankers in less than 10 minutes and maintains a high standard of cleanliness. This also helps the co-op to present a positive image of the dairy industry to the general traffic public.

Tank trailer maintenance is a high priority at the co-op. The two-bay shop on site has two mechanics and one helper. Tank maintenance and repairs typically are scheduled from 6 am until 2 pm Monday through Friday. Shop personnel, led by Sam Hilliard, lead mechanic, are qualified to rebuild non-code tank trailers. O'Carroll and Al Werkmister, safety director, oversee mechanics' training, including confined-space entry procedures.

The hands-on approach may also impact long-range improvements on the tank trailers, says O'Carroll. He recognized problems with trailers turning into the street from the co-op yard and shared his concerns with Walker Stainless Equipment Company. A 6,200-gallon frame and cradle tank trailer was supplied that would handle the twisting and turning coming out of the yard into the street.

In addition to Walker, stainless steel tank trailers in the fleet are supplied by Brenner Tank LLC and West-Mark Inc, and all typically have 6,200-gallon capacities. O'Carroll specifies LC Thomsen 60TTF foodgrade valves. Running gear includes Hendrickson Intraax suspensions, MeritorWabco antilock brake system, and Alcoa aluminum wheels.

“We are ordering more tank trailers as the milk production rises,” says O'Carroll. “We have a new processing plant that opened this summer in Casa Grande, 45 minutes from the terminal, in addition to our co-op plant and four other processors in the Phoenix metropolitan area.”

Meanwhile, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that Arizona milk production for 2008 is on the increase, and the average number of milk cows maintained by Arizona's dairy operations in 2007 rose by 8,000 head. Those statistics illustrate that desert producers will continue to provide, if not honey, a good deal of milk — and the Dairymen of Arizona, with the team of experienced drivers will be there to transport it.

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Mary Davis