Time is of the essence when it comes to handling milk. To maintain and preserve quality, the milk should arrive at a processing plant as soon as possible after being collected. Then it is up to the processor to off-load the milk into a silo, keep it chilled and process it as quickly as possible, said Lisbeth Goddik, a professor in the dairy science program at Oregon State University, Corvallis.

Umpqua Dairy Products Co., Roseburg, Ore., has become adept at receiving milk. It can empty a tanker, test the milk, clean the truck and have it back on the road in 75 minutes. A small processor like Umpqua Dairy has to compete on quality, Goddik said. It doesn’t have the volume of larger competitors who can sell milk for less.

Umpqua Dairy is a full-line processor, making ice cream and frozen yogurt along with Grade A products including milk, eggnog, butter, cottage cheese and sour cream. It is owned by the Feldkamp family and run by Doug and Steve Feldkamp. Doug is the president and chief executive officer and his older brother Steve is executive vice president and chief operating officer. They are the third generation to run the company founded by Herb Sullivan and their grandfather Ormond Feldkamp. 

The dairy received the 2013 Production Excellence Award from Quality Chekd, a membership organization representing 27 members and 59 plants. Quality Chekd also honored the dairy with several product quality awards.

The contests are taken seriously by the members, said CEO Peter Horvath. “There is a high level of competition,” he said. Winners are determined by objective measurements like milk quality.

“We’re competitive,” Steve Feldkamp acknowledged. “We strive to attain new levels.” He added that Umpqua wants to win because the contests raise the bar on quality and consistent performance. The awards also keep the production team focused on a goal and on maintaining quality.

The company derives about 75% of its sales from retail customers and 25% from foodservice (including schools, hospitals and other institutions). The dairy sells milk in Oregon and southwest Washington. It sells ice cream through grocery stores and distributors in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California and Oregon. Distributors have taken its ice cream to Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. The dairy makes ice cream mix for Dairy Queen stores in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Like any good processor, and especially a small business, Umpqua Dairy watches its costs carefully. Automating processing and production tasks helps keep costs down. Automation also takes away human error and contributes to consistency in product manufacturing, Doug Feldkamp said.

Touring the plant

Director of Plant Operations John Harvey and Director of Engineering Ted Grensky led Dairy Foods on a tour of the facility. The plant is operated by a veteran crew of 46 employees; nearly half have 12 years or more tenure.

Family farmers in Oregon and southern Washington provide rBST-free milk to the dairy through a cooperative. Umpqua supports the Northwest Sustainable Dairies initiatives of the Northwest Dairy Farmers Association, which sets guidelines for farmers in the areas of milk quality, animal welfare and other issues.

Raw milk arrives four to five times a day in double tankers, a common delivery set-up among dairy processors in the Pacific Northwest, Goddik said. Milk volume is verified by weighing the truck. Samples go to an on-site lab for standard quality control tests. Like other members of Quality Chekd, Umpqua sends samples weekly to Silliker Laboratory in Chicago Heights, Ill., which also tests the products for coliform, standard plate counts and flavor profile. These test results provide the basis for winning Quality Chekd contests.

Part of the reason the crew can process a truck in 75 minutes is that Umpqua uses two pumps with variable frequency drives. (It used to use only one.) The VFD makes the motors run more energy efficiently, too. Umpqua has installed frequency drives on all pumps and motors in the facility. The dairy is building a small lab in the receiving area so that milk samples from the trucks can be tested quicker.

Outside, near the receiving area, milk cases are returned to a staging area. They are turned upside down to dislodge anything that might be in the cases, then conveyed indoors to be washed and rinsed at 170F.

Processing beverages, ice cream

Raw milk is stored in four silos. The milk flows at 70 gallons a minute through an HT/ST pasteurizer. One side of the energy-efficient re-generation system pre-heats incoming milk; the other side pre-cools it. Milk is then separated. Although Umpqua makes ice cream, at times it finds itself with excess cream, which is then churned into butter and sold.

Umpqua draws heavily on the resources of Quality Chekd, especially in training and education of processing methods (for example, HT/ST pasteurization and Pasteurized Milk Ordinance standards) and Safe Quality Food programs. In addition, Umpqua employees go through Quality Chekd’s management skills training programs.

Fluid products include conventional whole milk, reduced-fat and nonfat milks, half-and-half, cream, eggnog and nondairy beverages (fruit punch, Florida orange juice and a fruit drink). Cultured products include sour cream, cottage cheese and buttermilk. Its frozen products include ice cream, light ice cream, no-sugar-added ice cream, sherbet, nonfat frozen yogurt and frozen Greek yogurt. Umpqua Dairy also churns butter.

The fluid milk packaging room handles half-pints, pints, quarts, half-gallons and gallons. A bag-in-box filling machine for ice cream mix and foodservice milk is set up in the processing room near the separator.

Clean plastic half-gallon and gallon jugs are de-bagged in a separate room and conveyed to the filling room. Umpqua has four milk fillers. A quart and pint filler can package 150 cases an hour; a paper half-gallon filler does 200 cases an hour; and a third paper filler can package 130 half-pints a minute. The 30-valve gallon filler runs at 95 gallons a minute. All of the cartons move along stainless steel conveyors to automatic casers.

Inside the mix room

Flavored milk beverages, ice cream mix, cottage cheese dressing and sour cream are prepared in the mix room. Depending upon what is being manufactured, 50-pound bags of powdered ingredients are poured by hand into a liquefier along with milk and whey. For chocolate ice cream, for example, batch tanks contain milk, whey powder, cocoa, salt, sugar and stabilizers. Each mix is tested and tasted before packaging.

Umpqua’s butter churn was not operating on the day of Dairy Foods’ visit. Harvey explained that cream is churned in a reconditioned butter churn acquired at auction. The churned cream spills into a “butter boat” and the butter is scooped into 55-pound boxes that are sold to bulk butter customers or stored in the freezer.

Production of cultured products, ice cream

Umpqua makes cultured dairy products in a separate room outfitted with two cottage cheese vats, two sour cream tanks and a three-lane filler. Cottage cheese curds are combined with dressing (prepared in the mix room). After filling, packages are sealed and an inkjet printer adds a code date.

Overhead pipes convey ice cream mix from the mix room to flavor vats in the ice cream packaging room. A carton former assembles packages from flat stock. (This operation will have moved upstairs by 2014 in order to open up room on the production floor.) Cartons and lids are conveyed to the filler, which fills 56-ounce and 3-gallon containers. Then the packages are conveyed to a tri-tray hardener where they sit for eight hours at minus 35F.

Director of Engineering Grensky and his team built a heavy heat-retaining curtain to cover the evaporator fans in the hardening room. This reduced the energy used to conduct a defrost, but it also means the ice cream can remain in the freezer during the defrost cycle, which reduces the man-hours needed to run the operation and increases production, according to Pacific Power.

Cleaning, maintenance, sustainability

Umpqua has an eight-person maintenance crew that includes three electricians. A preventative maintenance program keeps equipment in service so the dairy can avoid expensive delays or shutdowns. Harvey said that every month a different employee participates in a maintenance audit. That gives the dairy “a fresh set of eyes” on the operation, Harvey said.

For sanitizing, Umpqua uses a four-tank system. That gives it a more consistent flow, tighter tolerances and requires the use of fewer chemicals and water, Harvey said. Water is pH-balanced before being discharged to the city sewer.

The dairy belongs to Energy Trust of Oregon and the Blue Sky renewable energy program of Pacific Power, the electric utility. Umpqua Dairy’s energy practices avoided the release of 10,488 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to Pacific Power. Energy-saving lighting and sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms have cut electric consumption.

Umpqua remodeled its ammonia refrigeration system with a larger compressor (replacing two small units) with a variable frequency drive. The dairy saved 222,000 kilowatt hours by replacing an air compressor with a new rotary screw compressor with VFD. The Energy Trust in 2012 provided about $51,000 in cash incentives to make the improvements (which covered 35% of Umpqua’s costs).

Besides conservation of water and energy, recycling is also part of the dairy’s culture. The plant bails cardboard and plastic. It sells the plastic to a recycler in Eugene. The re-use practices extend beyond manufacturing. Employees can bring in batteries from home, as well as electronics and oil, for recycling.

Used motor oil heats the automotive shop. Umpqua Dairy maintains its own fleet and converted to 53-foot trucks from 45-foot for more efficient trips on longer routes. Fleet upgrades have increased fuel consumption to 6.5 miles per gallon from 4.8 mpg over the last 10 years. The company recaps tire casings and uses them for seven years, thereby reducing the number of tires purchased. It uses route tracking software to design efficient routes, monitor driving speed and idle times, and identify other energy-draining practices.

These sustainable practices are good for the environment and for Umpqua Dairy’s profit-and-loss statement. The dairy also controls costs through automation and process controls. Its determination to process milk as soon as it arrives contributes to cost savings and to quality dairy foods and beverages. When all these practices are taken together, one understands how Umpqua Dairy can compete against much larger competitors. The honor from Quality Chekd allows the Oregon business to brag that it runs the best dairy in America. 

At A Glance

Umpqua Dairy, Roseburg, Ore.

Interstate Milk Shippers Plant 41-62

Size of plant:87,000 square feet including cooler and freezer warehouses. Built in 1931 and expanded and updated regularly.

Employees:220 full-time, company-wide; 38 production employees

Products made:Milk, half-and-half, cream, eggnog, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, butter, juice, orange juice, ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, frozen Greek yogurt

Food safety certification: SQF Level 3

Silos: 250,000 gallon capacity, raw and finished pasteurized product

Pasteurization type: 2 high-temperature/short-time milk pasteurizers (4,000 gallons per hour); 1 mix HT/ST (2,000 gph)

Fillers: Five, including one quart and pint filler (packaging 150 cases an hour); one paper half-gallon (200 cases an hour); one half-pint (160 cases an hour ) or gallon (95 plastic jugs a minute). One ice cream filler (30,000 units per day).

Ice cream freezers: 3 units, each producing 600 gallons per hour

 Refrigerated and frozen storage capacity: 45,000 cases (in the cooler); 1,065 pallets (frozen storage). There is also an off-site freezer storage building of about 9,800 square feet.