Fonterra's New Darfield Milk Plant

May 2013

Fonterra's first greenfield dairy processing plant is in production

Fonterra Darfield is the first greenfield new site for the giant co-operative in the 12 years since formation in 2001. It has cost $500 million and before it began operations in August 2012 plans had already been accepted by the directors for a second milk powder drier on the site, to cost another $300 million. Darfield is much more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable than the older powder plants among more than 30 manufacturing sites around the country.

North Canterbury (from Hurunui to Ashburton) contains over 700 dairy farms and produced 222 million kilograms of milksolids in the 2011-12 season with a nation-leading average of 397kg/cow. The average herd size is 773 cows on 223ha milking platform, both those numbers being close to double the national average and the highest in the country. Six years ago North Canterbury had 8% of the nation’s dairy cows and 4% of the herds — today it has 12% of the cows and 6% of the herds. The region has an annual milk growth rate of five to six per cent, which is double the national growth rate. Fonterra’s nearest processing plants to this rapidly growing dairying region were in Marlborough or at Clandeboye in South Canterbury, with very long tanker distances. Competing plants had been built by Synlait at Dunsandel and more recently by Westland Milk at Rolleston. Fonterra announced in 2009 that it would seek resource consent for a greenfield plant near Darfield on 12ha, which was granted just before Christmas 2010.

Construction work began in January 2011 and in April 450 construction workers from GEA and Eberts began work on drier one. In March 2012 the plan for a second drier was announced, which is expected to be ready for the beginning of the 2013 season. From mid-winter 2012, trial processing was underway through drier one and August 17 the first 25kg bags of whole milk powder for export were dispatched to China and other Asian markets. Around 7700 cubic metres of concrete were used to build Darfield stage one and 1200 tonnes of steel. It took one million man-hours to complete.

The first drier at Darfield was built by GEA Process Engineering to produce 15 tonnes an hour, but since coming under the control of Fonterra, it has produced in excess of that. The daily expectation is conversion of 2.2 million litres of milk (at peak) into 370 tonnes of whole milk powder. The second drier is designed to produce 30 tonnes an hour, thereby tripling the site’s capacity.

There are 60 staff members on site at Darfield now, under Canterbury operations manager Richard Gray. He previously worked at Brightwater and Tasman plants before coming to Darfield in May 2011. Three quarters of the new jobs went to Canterbury locals, including many who needed new jobs after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. New members of the team were sent to Te Rapa and Whareora in the North Island and Clandeboye and Edendale in the South Island for familiarisation of plant and systems.

Drier one is expected to produce 85,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent to 5000 export containers, and if drier two does twice as much, the site production could reach 250,000 tonnes annually, about one-tenth of Fonterra’s total production.

According to Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings, “Darfield will be one of our most efficient powder plants, located in the heart of one of the fastest growing dairying regions in New Zealand. The efficiency, capacity and flexibility of Darfield will help drive further performance improvements for our New Zealand milk business.”

The environment has been top of mind since design, and a good example of this is both the drier and boiler are baghouse-protected. That means all exhausts are filtered and helps ensure the plant maintains the community’s high air quality. During the planning stage, the site was moved 660m back from the main West Coast highway and 12,000 trees were planted, to preserve the view of the Southern Alps. The tanker fleet of 12 consists of brand new Volvos with low-emission engines. By building Darfield, the tanker travel in Canterbury was reduced by 20,000km a day and by building Darfield stage two, tanker travel will be reduced by a further 10,000km.

Transport efficiencies will improve even further when the rail line is installed. In the product store much use is made of natural light and the lights only switch on when motion is detected or the natural light is low. Company-wide, an extensive energy reduction program has reduced Fonterra’s energy consumption by 15% per product tonne, the equivalent of the amount of energy required to power 100,000 homes. This represents a 320,000 tonne reduction in CO2 greenhouse gas.

At Darfield all stormwater is collected and treated through swales and infiltration basins. From the site no water is discharged to waterways. Water used inside the plant is treated to remove protein and sediment before irrigating to surrounding land, which will be farmed and used to grow hay and silage. Because of the water content removed from the milk, Darfield irrigates twice as much water as it takes from the groundwater consent well.

Finally, over the past five years Fonterra as a whole has reduced its waste to landfill by 90%. Darfield operates two industrial recycling balers and is aiming for best-practise target of 90% of waste recycled .