Sitting in the Fair Oaks Farms Café, with a cup of coffee and a plate of sandwich on the table in front of him, Mike McCloskey harbors an ambition in heart: sell his dairy products to China and let Chinese people have access to quality milk.
For this aim, McCloskey has visited China many times and got in touch with some Chinese dairy farms. “I’ve tried to look at different ways that we could work together.”
“I believe that (there) would be a wonderful opportunity for us to have some contribution to the nutrition and China,” McCloskey told Xinhua.
All foods served here in the Fair Oaks Farms Café, also called Cowfé, are products fresh from the farm, such as cheese, ice cream, meat, beef and pork. The café was the first place winner of the American Cheese Society in 2013 for its Smoked Sweet Swiss.
The dairy farm also serves as a tourist attraction. It has an exhibition room and farm tour programs. About 500,000 people visit the farm every year to enjoy the fresh sandwiches, salads, delicious sweet treats made from local milk.
McCloskey is board chairman of Fair Oaks Farms, a collection of 12 farms in the vast northwest plain of the state of Indiana, more than 70 miles south of Chicago. Proud and confident in his dairy products, McCloskey is eager to share them with Chinese consumers.
“Chinese people are always seeking quality milk. I believe that in some type of a relationship between our company and other companies in China and dairy farmers in China, we’re going to figure out over the next year, maybe two, I hope not that long,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey is especially enthusiastic about bringing his FairLife milk, a specialty milk product with protein concentrate vitamins and minerals, to China, saying it may end up having a contribution to China.
McCloskey is particular with the production process. “If we take FairLife to China, I want to work with dairy farmers there of who I would purchase milk from, and I would want to be involved directly at the farm level all the way to the processing plant level and to what we’re going to communicate to the consumer.”
“FairLife (in China should) be a company that owns its land, owns its cows, owns its processing plants, owns its brand and talks directly to the consumer,” McCloskey envisioned his FairLife milk production in China.
It is also what McCloskey is doing here in the Fair Oaks Farms. The farms have built a huge agro-business around growing and harvesting the forage crops, preparing the feed, taking care of cows and keeping them healthy, converting farm waste into fertilizer that can be returned to the land, and transporting milk products directly to supermarkets.
In more than 50 years of his dairy farming life, quality of the products has always been the top priority for McCloskey.
“Feeding dairy cows is all about understanding high quality forage first,” he told Xinhua while stopped his pick-up in front of high forage piles. There is a professor team in the Fair Oaks Farms to make the forage for dairy cows.
McCloskey also builds freestyle barns to protect cows from changing climate: spreading sand bedding for cows to lie down, dispatching well-trained employees to milk cows, and introducing advanced quick freezing equipment to keep milk fresh and sterile.
Sustainable development is also what McCloskey has been after. “There is a very simple approach to the thought process of our business: you have to care and take care of your cow,” McCloskey said. “The better you treat them, the better they produce.”
Taking care of the waste and converting them into fertilizer for the land is another accountability the farms have undertaken in maintaining sustainable development.
“You have to be perfect with the environment, you have to care about the environment, and you have to take care of the environment,” McCloskey said.
As China’s economy grows and people’s life improves, the dairy and infant formula market has grown substantially over the past decade and is expected to continue expanding.
The European Union (EU) surpassed New Zealand in 2015 and 2016 to be the leading dairy exporter to China, with close to 50 percent of the market value. The United States moved from the third-largest exporter to China to the fourth place in 2014, with almost 10 percent of the market.
Dairy markets in the world today have been very competitive, as farmers in New Zealand, the United States and Europe who have produced milk for centuries are doing it efficiently, McCloskey said. “You need to have the right people, the right frame of mind, the right transfer of knowledge.”
“It is not an easy process… and China’s in that process.”