Business Central February 2022

58 | PRODUCTION Maui Sheep Milk Exciting times for young industry T Sue Russell Industry pioneers- Peter Gatley, left, and Jake Chardon. “Everyone benefits from the smaller environmental footprint and the end-product delivers value to the consumer from the nutritional perspective. Sheep milk from New Zealand has a very positive future.” Pioneering a new agri-business in New Zealand has proven to be an exhilarating journey for the team at Maui Sheep Milk. The company, which produces high-value powdered sheep milk from a facility at Innovation Park in Hamilton, established in 2015, though its history really stems back to 2007 when one of the founding shareholders first began to milk sheep in the western bays of Lake Taupo. A new farm called Waikino Station was purchased nearby and became base for the genetic improvement programme, pioneered by Maui Milk geneticists Peter Gatley and Jake Chardon. “We were very fortunate that a lot of factors lined up for us but the work undertaken by Peter and Jake was incredibly important and pivotal to our establishment,” explains CEO Leah Davey, who has been in the role these past 18 months. Jake and Peter created pure East Friesians in 2015 from embryos frozen since the 1990s, and used the resulting dairy rams over Coopworth ewes to create a hybrid. Working with MPI they developed an acceptable import protocol and brought in new East Friesian bloodlines in the form of embryos from the UK. The final link in the chain, heralding the establishment of the Southern Cross™ breed, occurred with the opportunity to import frozen semen from progeny tested French Lacaune sires. The Lacaune breed has been developed over hundreds of years by the French to support the production of their world-famous Roquefort cheese. The farm conversion at Waikino Station imported a French internal rotary 64-bale sheep-milking plant, and the French connection was further strengthened in 2018 when the company began its contract to supply milk powder to global giant food-producer and specialist in infant nutrition, Danone, headquartered in France. “It feels like a bit of a whirlwind really but there has been a lot of hard work and thinking behind this project, culminating in what we have now,” says Leah. “We’re ensuring our operation is future-proofed to cope with the inevitable growth in demand as new markets come on.” Especially heartening is that the creation of high value product and diversification for New Zealand exports has also delivered an environmental benefit. Research shows that the sheep dairy system reduces nitrogen leaching relative to traditional dairy cattle farming, and new conversions quickly demonstrate an advantage in less disruption to soil structure, or pugging. Leah says that it is exciting to work with a product delivering value at both ends of the value chain. “Everyone benefits from the smaller environmental footprint and the end-product delivers value to the consumer from the nutritional perspective. “Sheep milk from New Zealand has a very positive future.” “I think there have long been pockets of New Zealand Agri who had an underlining desire to challenge the status quo and seize opportunities to use our world-leading grass-based farming system to produce new products.” There is strong demand from China consumers for milk products derived from small ruminant animals, such as goat and sheep and Leah says this demand opens up huge potential future markets in Asia. The good work so far achieved by Maui Milk has been recognised this year in being named a finalist in the Yili Group Award for innovation between China and New Zealand, at the NZ China Awards. Winners in each category will be announced at a gala event scheduled for 7 April 2022 at Shed 10, in Auckland. “We’re thrilled to have gained this recognition. It really speaks to what has been achieved and the potential for Maui Milk within the Chinese market.” Asked about where the challenges lie at this time for the company Leah says it’s a balancing act, ensuring steps taken are meaningful and sustainable, and to not get too far ahead of the current reality. “We’ve added five more people in the last four months into what was a pretty small team. We’re focussing on key roles to support supply and demand and to ensure we are capable of producing meaningful increases in volumes as markets come on stream.” When Business Central spoke with Leah she said the company’s current focus was on production of high quality whole and skim milk powder. “Our intention is to eventually develop our own range of products in the specialised nutritional blend product sector while we continue to supply other food manufacturers with the raw material for their own products.” e Auditing of farm and food assurance programmes Design and delivery of interactive training programmes Design and development of customised digital solutions • • • Your on-farm Quality Assurance specialist Contact us 0800 726 695 An exciting company in an emerging industry We’re proud to partner with Maui Milk Our Services