Out of the ashes of a fire, and from the bottom of an old dam, a new high-technology factory has arisen at Stanhope.
Fonterra has built a $140million export-driven cheese plant after a fire two-and-a-half years ago ripped through the old cheese plant.
The new factory, officially opened by Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford and Fonterra management last Friday, has been built on the site of an old dam.
The new factory also sports a 45m mural comprising thousands of photographs submitted by Stanhope residents.
Stanhope Fire Brigade first lieutenant Peter Dent fought the fire in the cheese room in December 2014, and returned on Friday to witness the opening.
Dairy farmer Rob Schloss was also at the opening, and has a special interest in how the factory works.
The milk from his farm will be processed and turned into cheddar, Gouda or mozzarella and sold domestically or exported to Asia.
‘‘After the fire there were a lot of questions going around about what would happen. Some were wondering if Fonterra was going to be around for the long haul,’’ Mr Schloss said.
‘‘This has answered that question. Farmers thinking about investing will have the confidence of knowing more about the future.’’
When it reaches peak production after being fully commissioned, the highly automated factory will produce up to 45000 tonnes of cheese annually and will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The factory employs about 150 people, 30 more with the new equipment.
Cheese produced at the new factory is destined for a growing market in Asia, particularly China and Japan, and Fonterra claims its cheese tops about half of all pizzas in China.
The plant can process up to 1.3million litres of milk a day and will handle milk from more than 260 suppliers around northern Victoria.
Fonterra Co-operative chair John Wilson said the investment would support the co-operative to further capture the strong global demand for dairy.
‘‘Australia is a global ingredients hub for Fonterra’s cheese, whey and nutritionals, complementing our consumer and foodservice businesses,’’ Mr Wilson said.
‘‘Stanhope will help us to meet the growing global demand for cheese that is being driven by a strengthening middle class in our key markets.
‘‘China alone is already a $4.6billion market for protein, and is growing at four per cent per annum.’’
Site plays critical part
Stanhope’s international role in food production was further cemented with the opening of the new $140million cheese making facility last Friday.
The plant will produce mozzarella cheese, and a range of other cheeses, for international consumption. At least half of the production will go overseas.
Fonterra Co-operative chairman John Wilson said the site was critical to Fonterra’s strategy in selling products to more than 100 countries around the world, and dairy was critical in providing high quality food ingredients in the world market.
Mr Wilson thanked the community for its support in the project.
Photographs supplied by Stanhope residents were used to form a mosaic mural on the wall of the factory that faces Midland Hwy, which passes through the town.
Mr Wilson made no comment about the milk price, but noted that prices would continue to be volatile.
Fonterra Australia managing director Rene Dedoncker said the recent step up in milk price to $5.50/kg was a result of the company getting back into cheese production at Stanhope.
Speaking after the opening, Mr Dedoncker said the company knew it had to behave differently after last year’s price surprise and cut.
He said it opened with $5.30.
‘‘Two weeks ago we moved to $5.50 on the basis of the choices we were making.
‘‘We are very confident it is reflective of market forces, and the earnings in the market.
‘‘We have said there is a potential to move to $5.80 and we feel really confident about that. But what we won’t do is move early. We will only move when know about the decisions returning the earnings.
‘‘We feel confident this is going to be a great year for farmers.’’
■More about Fonterra and dairy in next week’s Country News.