Milk Innovation Starts on the Farm

  • Article
  • April 6, 2015

In working for National Dairy Council I’ve gotten to know many dairy farm families and have visited several dairy farms. But just like most people who have visited a dairy farm, I’ve come to appreciate their diversity. Of the 45,000 dairy farms in America, most are family owned, but no two are exactly alike. They are large, small and everything in between – and they all work together to help feed our nation.

One thing I admire most about dairy farm families is their ingenuity. Farmers continuously innovate and find solutions to problems and challenges. Sometimes that ingenuity leads to a new dairy food to meet people’s unique needs and expectations.

Take Mike and Sue McCloskey, for example, founders of Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. A problem with a collapsed well on their dairy farm in New Mexico 23 years ago became the inspiration for fairlife ultra-filtered milk, which was recently launched nationwide, using filtration technology to provide benefits people want.

This is how it came about. When the best water well on his farm collapsed, which corrupted the drinking water for his cows, Mike, who is also a veterinarian, built a water filtration system to remove the impurities. After combining several types of filters, he was able to give his cows the type of water they needed. Their health flourished. As a farmer and veterinarian, Mike’s curiosity about filtration was piqued.

This filtration incident got both Mike and Sue thinking, and a few months later they both started wondering if it would be possible to apply a similar concept to milk: filtering milk to separate its nutritional components and then recombining the parts in different ratios so the milk would be higher in protein and calcium. Enthusiastic about the idea, Sue said to Mike, “If you can give me more protein and more calcium in one glass of milk, then we’d really be on to something.” So they bought food grade filters, and started experimenting with milk at their kitchen table and taste-testing it with their family. That was the genesis of fairlife ultra-filtered milk. You can read the full story here.

McCloskey formed Select Milk Producers co-op back in 1994, now a group of 92 family-owned dairy farms in Texas, New Mexico and the Midwest that are committed to a high level of animal care. They make sure their cows are fed well and live in comfortable, stress-free conditions.

Fair Oaks Farms and other Select farms are committed to sustainable agriculture. “From Grass to Glass” they control the whole process, which provides transparency and full traceability. According to Sue, traceability means “we own our own land, grow our own crops and feed our own cows. And at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, we run our own biofuel trucks to take our milk to our own state-of-the-art bottling facility to put our own fairlife ultra-filtered milk into our own bottles.” As Mike and Sue say, “We believe in doing better every step of the way, from grass to glass, because it’s the right thing to do.”

I hope this glimpse into the life of a dairy farmer will give you a new appreciation of what modern farming can be – and the amazing, hardworking, and innovative dairy farm families who make it happen.