SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Something unusual has happened.
The Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL) cheese plant/offices on Water Street shut down for the day on Thursday.
The facility has stopped to allow for equipment maintenance, but an intentional stoppage in production for more than a few hours at a time is exceedingly rare.
The company decided to take this extraordinary action in order to give its owners, the share-holding dairy farmers of P.E.I., a chance to tour the facility – which is now wrapping up a massive two-year renovation and expansion.
Chad Mann, ADL’s president, explained that because of strict food production and health and safety concerns, few non-employees ever get access to the production side of the facility.
Some farmers have been owners in the company their whole lives and have never been able to see how the cheese is made. So given the occasion of the renovation’s nearing completion, the company wanted to do something special to thank them – hence a steady stream of tour groups through the doors Thursday.
“They paid for this, we’re just happy to let them be able to see it,” said Mann.
“This is the largest investment in the dairy industry on the Island in the history of the industry.”
What does ADL make?
- In Summerside: Feta, havarti, cheder cheeses
- In Charlottetown, Fitzroy Street: Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk
- In St. Eleanors and West Royalty: White milk, cream, chocolate milk, buttermilk, eggnog
- In O’Leary: Salted and unsalted butter
- In St. Eleanors: Ice cream
The expansion of the facility started nearly two years ago. It originally had a budget of $12 million but that grew to $19 million as the project progressed, mostly because the company found additional improvements it wanted to do during the process.
Visitors on the tour were shown that there is scarcely a square foot of the facility that has not been improved in some way.
For starters, the expansion has allowed the facility to increase its fluid milk processing capacity from about 72 million litres per year to about 100 million L per year.
It has also allowed for more cheese to be produced at one time and to decrease time it takes to go from liquid milk to a block of cheese. Older cheeses are also becoming more popular while mild cheese’s market share is declining; so ADL built more space to store and age product, sometimes for up to several years.
The facility also added a heavy-duty diesel generator in case of power outages, revamped all their offices on the second floor and added more space for things like packaging and shipping.
New technology has also been installed to tackle old problems, like a machine that uses suction to help workers lift heavy blocks of cheese from racks onto their work stations, and processing machinery.
It was all very impressive, said South Granville farmer Erik Osinga.
Like most of the other farmers on the tour, it was Osinga’s first time seeing the inner workings of the facility.
“They employ a lot of Islanders and make an extremely good product that’s pretty popular all across The Maritimes.
“We were really impressed with how clean, how modern and good everything looks.”
Ranald MacFarlane, a farmer from Fernwood, added that it was investments like these that will help secure Island dairy farms into the future.
“Quality sells,” said MacFarlane.
“Canadian milk has been going down the quality road for years, we knew it … I mean when it comes to cattle care, drug availability, cell counts, all that stuff. Canadian (dairy) is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the world. We’re doing our part and the plant is doing theirs.”
“We’re proud,” interjected Osinga.
“Proud? Yeah! Not only are we proud, that’s the thing that’s going to keep us alive,” said MacFarlane.