CANTON, Ohio — A dairy farm can be as productive and efficient as possible, but it still needs a good place to market its milk. Likewise, a dairy processor needs a steady, dependable supply of quality milk — and customers who believe in the product.
Fortunately for Ohio — ranked fifth in dairy manufacturing and 11th in milk production — the state has the whole system.
During a special tour July 1, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels got to see both parts of that system — with a visit to Superior Dairy in the morning, followed by a visit to the 650-cow Clardale Farms of Canal Fulton.
At Superior, the director and his staff learned about a fifth-generation family milk processor that has been in business since 1922. Superior buys and bottles milk, and makes manufactured products like sour cream and ice cream.
About 90 percent of the milk they use comes from farms within a 50-70 mile radius of the Canton, Ohio, plant. They in turn sell to about 33 states.
This creates a strong demand for local milk, something that company president, Dan Soehnlen, said is important.
“It’s very, very important that everybody, including the milk producer, has to win along the way,” said Soehnlen.
His own company wins by virtue of its effort and creativity — doing things that other companies are not. One of those is manufacturing their own plastic milk containers, which have a unique, rectangular design.
“We are literally about new value,” Soehnlen said, noting his company is constantly researching and developing something new.
Superior employs about 300 people — and is part of the much larger, $7 billion Ohio dairy industry. Although last month, June, was technically Dairy Month — officials at the company joked that every day is dairy day for them, and were well pleased with the director’s visit.
Superior is one of many milk processors and manufacturers in northeast Ohio, and Soehnlen admitted that they are competitors. But he said Superior just focuses on its customers, and let’s the rest take care of itself.
“The customer and the consumer ends up being the driver,” he said. “Part of the logic is that if we win the support of customers, they will drive (business) to the rest of the industry.”
With so many local dairy processors, and dairy farms — Ohioans have a good chance of getting a locally produced product in the stores, said Allison Ryan, of the American Dairy Association Mideast.
“Ohioans are very lucky in general, because everyone really wants that local product,” she said. “Regardless of what brand it might be in the store, it’s coming from a local dairy farm.”
On the farm
The group visited one such local dairy — Clardale Farms of Canal Fulton — following the Superior Dairy tour.
This multi-generation family operation consists of Frank Burkett and three of his uncles, along with several cousins, who help with milking, cow and calf care, and fieldwork.
The cows are milked three times a day and milk is sold to Superior Dairy. The farm has recently invested in additional manure storage, and a new, automated and computerized calf barn.
On the manure side — the farm uses a manure separator to separate the manure from the sand — which makes the sand reusable for bedding. A 5 million-gallon earthen lagoon was installed about three years ago — which puts the farm’s total manure storage capacity at more than 7 million gallons.
This allows the farm more flexibility over when to apply manure — especially when the weather prevents it.
“If it’s suitable at all, we can haul; if it’s not suitable, we don’t have to,” Burkett said.
About 700 new calves are born on the farm each year — which now go through a new, automated calf barn that dispenses feed and milk according to the calf’s needs. Each calf has an identification tag in its ear that has a radio frequency, which tells the computer when to dispense feed.
The Burketts farm about 800 acres in the heavily populated area of Jackson and Lawrence Townships — and they work closely with the Stark County Soil and Water Conservation District on nutrient management and environmental stewardship.
Daniels said he’s proud of Ohio’s dairy industry and the jobs that it creates — not only directly, but also indirect jobs.
”The domino effect of what the dairy industry means to Ohio just continues to (grow),” he said. “We’re proud of the processors that we’ve got in Ohio — the dairy processors and the dairy producers.”
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