High Desert Milk

Producing High-quality, Diverse Dairy Products for a Broad Market
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Sean Barr

In 2001, six progressive dairy professionals came together to build a stronger market with better returns to serve producers around Burley, Idaho. The team founded High Desert Milk (HDM), now a growing processor for sweet cream, butter and dry and powdered milk. Among the original founders is Randy Robinson, the current CEO of HDM. His lengthy experiences in the agricultural industry, as well as his commitment to quality and integrity, have helped the business grow into its current structure.

“I’m a fifth generation Idahoan,” Randy explains. “My family has farmed and ranched here since the 1860s, and probably did it elsewhere before that. I grew potatoes for many years and just saw an opportunity to get into the dairy business. We have expanded and within a few years I’ll probably build another.”

HDM operates as a cooperative. With six owners, the team works with 23 dairies spread out between three counties in southern Idaho. The business takes fresh milk from the dairies, and then separates it, evaporates it and then dries it to make powdered milk. In 2013, the team added butter production to the company’s capabilities.

Value-added Dairy Products

HDM ships product to clients in more than 40 countries. “Our dairy products are used in a variety of applications,” Randy explains. “It is re-constituted, used as ingredients for baking, as well as many other applications. For anything you can use milk in, you can use milk powder.”

According to Randy, it is a fairly simple process. “Of course the six of us own 23 dairies and we farm close to 70,000 acres,” he continues. “Altogether, we have about 40,000 cows, which is a considerable amount of milk. We have our own trucking division and we pick the milk up at the dairies. We are a completely closed system so you know we feed the cows, we pick the milk up at our dairies, bring the milk into the processing plant, pasteurize it, run it through a separator, the cream is pasteurized again, the skim milk is sent to an evaporator. We pump the milk solids through a big dryer, where we make skim-milk powder, non-fat dry milk, whole milk powder and buttermilk powder. There is a different process for each one of those depending on our customers’ needs.”

HDM has recently broadened its customer base by adding butter to the line of value-added milk products. “Our expansion into butter has brought on additional business,” Randy notes. “We are still developing in that market. Most of our butter is exported in 25 kilogram boxes but we are also making quarter-pound Elgin’s in 1 pound packages for the domestic markets.” The team invested in a brand new butter plant in 2013, taking on the new market opportunity with state-of-the-art equipment.

A Strong Market

HDM has been going strong for several years, thanks to consistent demand and a world shortage of protein. “It’s a sellers’ market,” Randy explains. “Our challenge now is getting enough product. The economy is getting a little better and changes across the world have increased our international market share.” He cites economic growth and expansion of the middle class in Asia and other countries as a boost to business.

Randy and his team are in a positive place as far as moving milk products. Still, there are factors that he and his team keep close tabs on. “There are general things that keep you awake at night in this business,” he explains. “Still, a lot of the challenges are not anything we can change, so we try to go with the flow.” As part of the agricultural sector, business can change with the seasons. Therefore, HDM plans ahead when possible and relies on a strong team to maintain stability.

Randy has four sons involved in the business, between the dairies, farms and the plant. Outside the immediate family, the company employs approximately 150 people at the plant and more than 1,000 people working on the farms and dairies. With a solid foundation and reliable support, HDM has become one of the United States’ top 100 dairy operations.

In the coming years, Randy is looking forward to seeing the growth and development of the company’s butter operation, as well as some expansion on the dairy end. “We are always changing and looking for new ideas,” he explains. “The technology changes every year and we do all we can to stay ahead of it.” High Desert Milk continues to provide quality, safe products for a wide variety of applications around the world.

 

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