By MALUM NALU
IT’S been a long time between drinks for the dairy industry in Papua New Guinea.
History was made this week with production of fresh milk products at the US$41 million (K129 million) Ilimo Dairy Farm at 14-Mile outside Port Moresby.
Newbies may think that this is the first time that a dairy has been built in the country, however, the industry goes back a long way.
There have been at least two major dairies in the country, one in Lae and one in Port Moresby, since the 1950s.
The problem is that the industry never really took off in a big way or sustained itself until this new kid on the block comes along.
Up to now, a third producer, Evangelical Brotherhood at 6-Mile outside Lae, supplies fresh milk and yoghurt to the city on a relatively small scale.
Lutheran mission history shows that in 1900, the Neuendettelsau Mission Society imported cattle from Australia to the mission stations at Malahang in Lae and Finschhafen, however, tick fever caused many losses.
In 1954, after the end of the two world wars, Australian farmers assisted the mission further establish its herd.
Twenty-five Shorthorn heifers were flown from Cairns in North Queensland to Lae to form the nucleus of a beef herd at the Lutheran Mission at Malahang.
The cattle herd was built up to more than 150 head and a dairy was established.
In 1955, Tropical Dairies became the first in PNG to supply pasteurised milk in cartons.
On Oct 24, 1959, the first Lae Agricultural show was run.
“In the livestock section,” according to Morobe Show Society archives, “dairy cattle were the strongest exhibit.
“The cattle came from the Lutheran Mission at Malahang, Mrs Jensen’s dairy, both near Lae and the Department of Agriculture and Stock and Fisheries’ (DASF) property Erap.
By 1961 Malahang was producing some 32, 000 gallons of milk per year.
Tanubada Dairy Products outside Port Moresby was established in 1967 and used to supply fresh milk and dairy products to residents of the growing town then and in the 1970s.
I visited the then bustling dairy on an excursion way back in 1974 when I was a six-year-old doing Grade 1 in Port Moresby.
Tanubada later ventured into making icecream and was eventually sold off to Laga Industries.
The brand-new Ilimo Dairy Farm breaks a long drought of milk production in the country.
Last Sunday morning, I visit the dairy at the invitation of Innovative Agro Industry chairman and executive-director Ilan Weiss, and am impressed.
He runs us through the whole process from the cow shed to milking to production.
Right now, there are 740 on the farm, 516 of which provide milk while 224 are calves
The 516 cows were imported from New Zealand last year and fed and raised in state-of-the-art computerised facilities.
“We grow stuff like maize, sorghum, soy beans and other things,” Weiss says.
“We like to be self-reliant, we don’t like to import feed.
“We like our cows to get a healthy, good diet.
“The formula for a good dairy farm is very simple: Happy cows produce good, top-quality milk.
“Simple as that.
“So we have to make sure that the cows are stress-free, they get the best diet, and then they reciprocate by giving us the best, top-quality milk that you can get.”
The cows live in air-conditioned sheds with sprinklers to ensure they do not get heat stress.
“If we let them out on the field, it’s warm, it’s sunny, there’s high radiation, they’ll sweat and they won’t produce milk because they use their energy to cool themselves down,” Weiss explains
“Second thing: We give them the best diet available.
“Right now, we have about 740 cows altogether, with the calves and everybody in the farm.”
These include milking cows which were brought in pregnant from New Zealand and calved in PNG, and heifers which were inseminated in PNG and will be calving next month.
Weiss says the milking cows give about 6000 litres and expects this to double to 12,000 litres.
“We have made sure that they have a lot of space to roam around in,” he adds.
“They’re not cramped together.
“We milk the cows three times a day.
“We don’t force them to go to the milking place.
“It is open and they roam on their own to the milking parlour where they get a nice shower, the whole salon treatment, and they’ll come in and get milked.
“It’s a very stress-free environment.
“That’s animal welfare.
“Once we give them the best conditions available, they produce more milk and better quality.”
“This is a 24/7 operation because we milk the cows three times a day: Morning milking, afternoon milking which is around 4(pm) and then midnight milking.”
At the milking parlour, the cows are given a shower, they are dried and then milked.
The amount of milk given by each cow is meticulously recorded using hi-tech equipment.
“Each cow gives an average of 26 litres a day,” Weiss says
“After that the gates are opened and they walk back to the shed.”
The women involved in milking, many from surrounding settlements, have been trained by the company.
Young professionals are fresh graduates from PNG universities.
The dairy employs about 200 nationals altogether.
“This dairy is planned to be processing 12,000 litres a day, which means five million litres in a year – which is about a third of the PNG consumption,” Weiss says.
“Later on, once we stabilise our process, we can increase our capacity up to a thousand cows and we’ll double the capacity.
“Obviously, there’s room for more dairy farms around PNG to supply the full demand.
“We need a lot more professionals for veterinary care, monitoring and processing, lab managers, lab technicians, production managers.
“All this upskilling is going on right now.
“Remember, this is an infant industry: This is the first time this is done in PNG.
“We’re providing opportunities – that’s one thing that Papua New Guinea needs.”
The milk is then brought into the factory to be processed, bottled and packed for distribution.
“Milk, in order for it to be safe to consume, has to be heated in a process called pasteurisation,” says process manager Omer Yunik.
“It has to stay at a high temperature for a certain time.
“Once it is pasturised, we cool it down, and then we move it to one of our clean tanks.
“We have several tanks because in the future we plan to produce different products.
“From the tanks, we send it through one of the lines to one of the four machines we have here, to package the milk.”
It’s a complex process from the cow shed to the factory and I feel a sense of sense of pride as a Papua New Guinean.
The milk run has begun.
Innovative Agro Industry also has plans to build a second dairy at Yalu along the Highlands Highway outside Lae.
Papua New Guinea’s dairy industry is back.
By MALUM NALU