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Grootendorst Farms to serve as test site for milk tower

Progressive Dairy Editor Karen Lee Published on 10 December 2019

Storing milk in a vertical milk tower isn’t a new concept. It has been implemented for years at milk processing facilities and even on farms in the U.S., Europe and other countries around the world.

Seeing a need for larger milk storage vessels, the Paul Mueller Company brought to market the milk tower.

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“A milk tower is basically a vertical way of storing milk,” states Harlan Martin, cooling department manager at Norwell Dairy Systems, which is a dealer of Paul Mueller Company products.

“The traditional way of storing milk in Ontario has been a horizontal tank, which takes a larger footprint and, in a lot of cases, requires a larger milkhouse to be built in order to upgrade to a larger milk tank,” Martin explains.

The maximum capacity of a horizontal tank is 32,000 litres. There are farms in Ontario that produce more milk than that in a day and need more storage. Up to this point, their only option has been to add a second horizontal milk tank with an additional cost of a building expansion to accommodate it.

The milk tower is built to stand outside the milkhouse with only a 5-by-5-foot alcove cabinet that sticks through the wall into the milkhouse.

Mueller Milk Tower

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“It allows a farmer to put a larger storage vessel onto the farm without necessarily spending a lot of money on a building,” Martin says.

The milk tower offers more holding capacity. It is available in six sizes, ranging from 26,498 to 151,416 litres.

“It gives us more flexibility to embrace the growth of the marketplace that we’re experiencing in Ontario. The industry has begun to max out our current milk storage method, and it’s time to look at that next step,” he says.

However, that next step requires a change in Ontario’s milk pick-up policies. A horizontal tank allows the milk hauler to climb to the top, open the hatch, physically view and smell the milk, and take a milk sample via a dip method before emptying the tank. These actions are not possible with the milk tower.

“Because of the change of pick-up procedure, we’re doing a test site to provide evidence that obtaining a milk sample via aseptic method with a sterile syringe, will provide just as accurate composition sample as the dip method,” Martin says.

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) have agreed to the first installation of this type of storage at Grootendorst Farms in Breslau, Ontario, for a trial purpose.

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Martin explains, “Before OMAFRA and DFO rewrite a policy they need to see consistent positive testing to validate their efforts of changing the policy.”

This method of storage has already been approved for use in Quebec and a number of installations have been done since. Martin says some preliminary testing on a farm there has thus far yielded favourable results.

While the policywriters are looking for the milk quality and samples to be as accurate as the original storage and sample method, Martin and his colleagues are expecting the quality of the milk to be even better.

The milk tower is paired with an instant chill glycol cooling system that will instantly cool the milk to 3ºC before it enters the tower.

“I believe instant chill cooling will affect milk quality,” Martin says. “You won’t be agitating the milk as much, and can maintain a consistent blend rather than raising and lowering the blend temperature every time you add milk.”

Most farms with horizontal tanks have already implemented a pre-cooling system using well water running through a plate heat exchanger.

This cools the milk down a substantial amount from body temperature, but then the balance of the cooling, about 50%, Martin estimates, still needs to occur in the storage tank. To do so, the milk is agitated continuously while the cooling takes place until the blended temperature reaches 3ºC. This can add up to several hours of agitation per milking.

With the instant chill system, there is no longer a need for continual agitation to cool the milk. The milk will still be agitated several times per hour to keep the components from separating.

Instant cooling was one of the features that appealed to Henk Grootendorst. “I think it’s better for the quality of the milk,” he says, noting it may be a requirement for the processing of specific dairy products in the future.

Grootendorst says he’s always on the lookout for ways to improve his farm’s performance. He and his brother, Ary, milk 600 cows 3X and are topping out their existing 20,000-litre milk tank.

“We were looking to have more storage,” Grootendorst says of why they decided to be the test farm for a new 40,000-litre milk tower. “Capacity is number one. Number two is footprint for the building.”

He travels a lot in Europe where vertical milk storage is quite common. “I think it is a great idea. Say you’d like to put new storage in; you don’t have to build another milkhouse. You cut a hole in the wall, put the milk tower down and have everything connected to that,” he says.

While it isn’t necessary to build or expand the milkhouse to accommodate the milk tower, the Grootendorsts decided they would to accommodate other farm needs.

When the brothers emigrated from the Netherlands over 20 years ago, they started milking 250 cows in Canada. As they farm grew over the years, their milkhouse did not.

“I’d like to have a little more room for my storage for chemicals and everything,” Grootendorst says.

Larger chemical storage will allow them to buy in bulk, saving money and the amount of handling, which improves farm safety.

They are also adding on to make room for two vacuum pumps and two air compressors.

“If something breaks down, we can switch over easily,” he says. “I don’t like to have downtime. A two- or three-hour setback results in losses that take time to get back.”

In addition, they plan to enhance the cooling system so they can recycle water used in this process back to the barn. For the tower itself, the construction need was a new concrete platform outside.

At the time of this writing, the goal is to have the tower in place by mid-December with milk going in around mid-January. Their existing tank will remain in place until the testing phase is complete and this type of storage is approved in Ontario. 

“I do a lot of research myself actually, and I have no concerns at all,” Grootendorst says regarding the testing phase. “I think everything we do with a milk tower is an improvement.  end mark

PHOTO: Before making its way to Grootendorst Farms for on-farm testing, the milk tower was on display at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in September. Photo by Owen Smelski, Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show.

Karen Lee
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