Third generation dairy producers Ross and Sally Hopper have developed an enviable reputation for delivering the finest dairy products in the country. Diesel News’ Paul Matthei visits the enterprise at Maleny in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast district to see what makes it tick.
In an era where small businesses are being swallowed up by large multinationals at an alarming rate, it’s refreshing to discover family-owned and run operations such as Maleny Dairies. They are not just surviving but thriving by producing top quality products for which many satisfied customers are happy to pay a premium. Needless to say, you won’t find supermarket-style dollar-per-litre milk here because that’s not what this outfit is about.
Ross’s grandfather originally bought the dairy farm in 1948 and proceeded to run it in the traditional way, followed on by his father, Harold. This was just how things were done in the latter half of the 20th century, but with the approach of the new millennium the third generation of Hoppers realised that to remain viable they needed a paradigm shift in their operations.
So it was decided that Ross’s brother would continue the dairy farming operation while Ross and Sally, in the year 2000, set about constructing a state-of-the-art milk factory right there on the farm. It’s important, therefore, to point out that the two operations of producing and processing the milk are run as separate entities, as Ross explains.
“My brother and his wife own and run the dairy and my wife and I own and operate the factory,” says Ross. “So we buy the milk from him – he’s one of the 10 farmers who supply us – and he obviously has to abide by the same rules as all the others and supply good quality milk to us.
“Our main point of difference is that we use Guernsey milk which is known and loved for its extra creamy flavour.”
As the conversation continues, Ross explains that the increasing sales of Maleny’s products is creating organic growth in the business and, as a flow-on effect, the need for more milk.
“We’re currently in negotiations to take on another farm’s milk so our eleventh farm will be coming onboard shortly,” says Ross. “That’s what we need to do, grow our sales enough to take on another farm and be ready to ramp up production to cater for an extra couple of million litres per year.
“We also work in with other small producers like Maleny Cheese and we shuffle milk around amongst ourselves to help each other out.”
When it comes to keeping his products at the correct temperature during transit, Ross relies on Carrier fridge units on each of his trailers. There are a couple of key reasons why he chooses Carrier. Firstly, because they come standard with plug-in three-phase electric operation; and secondly because he also owns a refrigerated container hire business which has 300 shipping containers fitted with Carrier fridge plants.
“I like Carrier,” says Ross. “I’ve had Mitsubishi and other brands of fridge motors but Carrier ticks all the boxes for me.
“Whenever the trailers are parked on the dock we plug them in to three-phase power so we don’t have diesel engines running to annoy the neighbours. That way the trailers can be pre-loaded the afternoon before they’re due to leave and sit there silently all night – and everyone stays chilled.”
Interestingly, he does have one Thermo King fridge but it’s not on a trailer. It’s a stationary unit mounted in the wall of the cool-room that serves as a backup when the power goes out.
“So instead of having a back up generator I’ve got a fridge motor mounted on the side of the cool room,” says Ross. “When the power goes out we keep all the doors shut and fire up the Thermo King and it buys us time until the power comes back on.
“We sometimes have the power out for six or eight hours when Energex is working on the lines and we also need to service our cool room refrigeration equipment periodically. In both cases we have the Thermo King running and it does the job well. Part of our fortnightly routine is to start it up and let it run for a couple of hours to make sure everything stays well lubricated and it’s ready to go when needed.”