Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association Inc. began in 1920, making it one of the older associations in the region. Far from feeling its age at 95 years, the cooperative is staying on top of ever-changing milk transport regulations, strengthening its community involvement and attracting young people who will carry forward the voice and viability of the region’s dairy farmers.
Today the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association is owned and operated by nearly 1,500 dairy farm families, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Member farms vary in size and shape, some with herds fewer than 100 cows and others with more than 2,000 cows.
Young farmers are an important part of that group, said Bill Chomicki, general manager of the manufacturing plant in Laurel that is owned by the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.
“Many of our younger members are sons and daughters of our farmers,” he said. “Some of them are going off and starting their own farms, while others remain part of their family’s operation. No matter what their path, they all come together to better the cooperative and strengthen its future.”
As Chomicki talked in his office in Laurel, tanker trucks were pulling through the gate, bringing milk to the balancing plant. The plant processes milk that otherwise would not be used in fluid products and extends the shelf life by removing water, he explained.
Balancing is a critical part of the dairy industry because even though milk consumption increases and decreases, and milk prices fluctuate, milk production continues to remain strong. Without balancing, milk would be wasted. “I always tell people milk is the only agricultural product that gets harvested every day, whether you need it or not,” said Chomicki.
How Many Glasses Is That?
The plant balances about 100 million gallons a year. During some busy weeks — such as Christmas week — about 3 million gallons pass through the plant. The plant just finished its busiest month of the year to date in May.
“Moderate temperatures, access to fresh grass and feed, and more time in the sun encourages higher milk production during the spring months,” explained Chomicki.
As the milk enters the plant, the cream and the skim are separated, then the cream is pasteurized. In a single week, the plant may sell 300,000 gallons of cream, most of which goes to ice cream makers. One of its biggest customers buying the cream is Nestlé, also in Laurel, said Chomicki, as well as The Hershey Company, Turkey Hill Dairy and Friendly’s.
The plant also makes millions of pounds of butter for industrial use. Finally, some milk is sold in condensed or powdered form to bakeries and other venues. “Even latex paint has milk powder in it,” said Chomicki.
Depending on the world economy and the strength of the dollar, the plant does some exporting during some years. “One year we shipped butter to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Workers at the plant know in advance that they will face busy times and not-so-busy times, and because this is clearly communicated, worker retention is extremely high, said Chomicki.
“Nobody ever leaves here,” he said with a smile. “We do ask a lot of them — seven days a week, a lot of times. We look to hire and maintain just enough staff to keep us moving during the busy seasons.”
Product safety is a priority, no matter what the workload, he emphasized.
Being a Good Neighbor
Situated on more than 200 acres, the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association wants to be a good neighbor and an active part of the community, said Chomicki.
Being involved with the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC) has helped advance that goal, he said. He first became connected with the Chamber when an export sale required approval from a chamber of commerce. After meeting BWCC President and CEO Walt Townshend, Chomicki decided to join the Chamber.
“Walt introduced us to [Maryland State] Sen. [James] Robey, who sponsored some legislation for us which succeeded in changing some milk truck weight regulations,” Chomicki recalled.
The BWCC continues to help Chomicki and others navigate complex regulations surrounding milk transport, he added. “Every state has its own rules, and so it becomes a hodgepodge of interstate regulations related to the transport of milk. The states are trying to organize into a group effort, and the knowledge and advocacy within the BWCC is helping us accomplish that.”
Part of a Larger Network
The Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, headquartered in Reston, Va., owns and operates two fluid processing plants: Marva Maid, in Newport News, Va., and Marva Maid of Landover; and two manufacturing plants, the one in Laurel, and Valley Milk Products LLC in Strasburg, Va.
The Laurel manufacturing location has been serving as a regional balancing plant since 1955.
The cooperative also administers a farm supply warehouse through which members and local farmers can purchase agricultural items, such as hardware, pet food, fencing and cleaning supplies, at discounted prices.
More than 1,500 in-stock agricultural items are available for dairy and livestock producers from a main equipment warehouse in Frederick and its satellite warehouse in Hickory, N.C.