Some countries don’t have access to fresh milk (or sometimes not enough of it), so the use of milk powder becomes paramount. End users and manufacturers require high-specification powders that meet key parameters, including low spore count since that can impact the processing and shelf life of products, noted Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) — which manages the national dairy checkoff — and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Arlington, Va.

“We realized in order to be a great supplier to the international marketplace, we needed to consistently offer powders that met the buyers’ specifications and performed well in the applications,” said Annie Bienvenue, vice president of ingredients marketing and technical services for USDEC. “We wanted to help them with the technical and scientific information they needed to succeed.”

As a result, the National Dairy Council (NDC) and USDEC formed the Milk Powder Quality Improvement Plan in 2011 to help the United States reach its full export potential. The effort spanned seven years and included 33 projects conducted at 10 universities that are part of the dairy research center network that receives funding from local and national checkoff organizations. NDC and USDEC representatives also visited suppliers and end users to learn best practices on producing low-spore powders, DMI and USDEC noted.

It was one of the largest research projects ever conducted through the checkoff.

“If you look at the scope of this work, it was invaluable for us to have the dairy research centers at our fingertips and all of the experts we gathered,” said Rohit Kapoor, vice president of product research for NDC. “An initiative of this scale would not have been possible without them and the ability to access their expertise and resources.”

The work resulted in NDC and USDEC creating resources and delivering the research findings through “spore seminars” to some of the largest U.S. dairy companies and cooperatives that export powders. All aspects of the industry, from the farm to the plant, now have tools to provide an expanded portfolio, including low-spore milk powders, the organizations said.

USDEC reported that as a result, the United States has grown nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (SMP) exports from just over 100,000 metric tons in 2000 to more than 700,000 in 2018. In 2002, the United States accounted for less than 7% of total SMP trade. Today, that number hovers between 25% and 30%.

Darigold is one company that has benefitted from the NDC-USDEC work. Greg Chandler, director of operational improvement for Darigold, said the research and tools have helped the company understand the potential instances where spores can be introduced and how they can be managed. Chandler estimated that about two-thirds of the company’s milk heads into its ingredients business, and about 60% of that milk is destined for the export market.

In 2016, Darigold upgraded one of its milk powder plants to meet the ever-increasing requirements of global competition and align its operating procedures to global best practices. Many came from the NDC-USDEC research findings.

“It’s a really good example of how we can all work together on a pre-competitive basis and have outcomes that benefit the entire industry,” Chandler said.