On December 4, just four months after approval from the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) board of directors, the first full load of raw milk concentrate left the MMPA Constantine Plant, destined for a Foremost Farms USA cheese plant in Wisconsin. Processed by a reverse osmosis (RO) system owned by Foremost Farms and housed and operated by MMPA, the load marked a new chapter in MMPA history.
“Michigan’s milk supply is growing at a rate of 3 to 4 percent per year, so investing in a project like the RO helps us keep pace with the growing milk production in our region. The MMPA- Foremost Farms strategic alliance is a great example of the true spirit of a cooperative — working together for the betterment of all. It’s a win-win for the Michigan dairy industry, achieving transportation efficiencies and helping market increased member milk production,” Joe Diglio, MMPA general manager, says.
Showcasing the power and efficiency of cooperation among cooperatives, the first phase of MMPA and Foremost Farms’ partnership finished on time and on budget, onboarding technology to better serve the cooperatives’ member-owners.
Waste No Time, Waste No Water
Increasing Constantine’s processing capacity from 1 to 2 million pounds was no small feat; yet both cooperatives set an aggressive timeline to accomplish construction, installation and commissioning. Case in point: a lineup of excavation equipment idled outside Constantine’s gates on August 1, ready and waiting for word that the board had approved the project.
“When we were quoting the RO construction with various contractors, more than one gave us a doubtful smirk when we shared our deadlines,” Dave Davis, Constantine plant manager, says. “To be honest, those of us putting the project together didn’t know whether we’d be able to get it done on time either. It took a concerted effort by everyone involved to achieve this milestone.”
With anywhere from 20 to 60 contractors working on the project daily, the majority of construction occurred during third shift to minimize disruptions to the plant’s regular operations. Despite a daily onslaught of construction equipment and activity, milk throughput never declined.
The project involved adding eight silos, upsizing pumps and piping in receiving, constructing two additional load-out bays and renovating a warehouse to house the RO. MMPA invested in the project’s infrastructure and will take the lead on RO management; though MMPA and Foremost Farms member farms are both supplying a portion of the milk processed with the RO.
“We were anxious to be part of this project because it allowed Constantine to grow and help serve our member-owners. It increased the security of our plant and cemented the value our facility brings, not only to the co-op, but to the dairy industry as a whole,” Dave says.
In addition to reducing transportation costs and hauler fuel emissions by a third, the RO adds another level of sustainability to the Constantine operation. During the RO process, two-thirds of the raw milk volume is separated as pure water. But this byproduct isn’t just dumped down the drain. Rather, the resulting pure water
from the RO process (75,000 gallons per day) is used to clean the equipment.
Boiled down, the RO story is a testament to the power of cooperation. “Foremost Farms formed a great, technical team to help pull off this project. We have really enjoyed working with and learning from them, and I believe the end result is something better than either co-op could have come up with on its own,” Dave explains.
Even an outsider could pick up on the excitement at Constantine as MMPA and Foremost Farms employees – salaried and hourly, plant and corporate – have come together with contractors, regulators and local government to pull off an eight-month project in five.
“This has been a positive partnership because the Foremost Farms and MMPA teams formed a positive and constructive working environment,” Ed Lloyd, Constantine lead production supervisor, says.
Full Steam Ahead
But the end of this phase doesn’t mean a reprieve for the Constantine team. The plant will continue operating in a state of construction for the next five months, moving ahead to phase two of the MMPA-Foremost Farms strategic alliance. The goal of the next phase is operating the RO during all three shifts, increasing capacity by another 1 million pounds of milk.
It’s going to take additional expansion on the intake and load-out sides of the operation, but MMPA and Foremost Farms management and employees are confident they can pull it off.
“We set out to find a partner in Michigan to support a critical business need Foremost Farms had, to find a processing home for an unprecedented amount of milk growth in the region,” Dirk Tachick, Foremost Farms USA senior vice president-manufacturing and lead representative on the project, says. “Michigan Milk was not only facing the same situation, but they matched our business philosophies, and we had confidence both cooperatives would roll up their sleeves and complete phase one. That is exactly what happened. We were on time, on budget and there was effective collaboration across both cooperatives to get the job done.
“Phase two in 2015 will be about milk balancing and flexibility. We will add storage, receiving capacity and double RO processing to 2 million pounds per day. The RO will help both cooperatives balance the Michigan milk supply to a much greater degree. The cream separators and additional silos will allow us some flexibility at managing the milk supply for the benefit of both cooperatives.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.