By Kris Leonhardt
“In 1953 there was a tremendous number of dairy plants, over a thousand, and they just dwindled off. … They were scattered all over,” Nasonville Dairy CEO Ken Heiman explained. “(With changes in) nutrition, they are just gone. So things continue to change, and that is just the way it is.
“Most of it became the reinvestment that was required with a small return, so most of the cheese plants disappeared over time, as did the number of dairy farmers.”
For the cheese industry, economic influences came from both direct and indirect sources. Adjustments in the farming industry and in American culture would influence the changing market.
“You have to remember how many dairy farmers we had. The actual number will continue (to decline),” stated Heiman. “I don’t see us having any less cows, but I do see us having less dairy producers.
“It’s a way of life that seems to be slipping past us. You never saw kids (in the early days of the business) that were overweight. They had so much to do. They always had chores. They had to be up to do this. They had requirements that a lot of kids today don’t have.”
Today, Nasonville Dairy is responsible for the livelihood of some 100 employees as well as approximately 200 dairy farmers, an obligation the Heimans take to heart when handling the company’s operations.
“There is always someone here,” Heiman said. “The majority of the work begins on Sunday afternoon, and then it pretty much continues to run until — We like to have a majority of the employees out of here Saturday at noon so they’ve got Saturday afternoon off and Sunday. Milk haulers and such, there is always somebody at the intake, always somebody doing something. Could be lab people that are checking on bacteria cycles and different things, there is always somebody doing something or checking on something.”
When Arnold Heiman brought the family to Nasonville, the business processed 7,500 pounds of milk a day. Today, the dairy’s milk intake totals 1.5 million pounds per day — about 80,000 pounds of milk an hour.
“Every tanker load of milk you see, every quad or semi lasts us 37 minutes,” Ken added. “We buy milk from just about 200 dairy farmers in the area. The 200 farmers are great people. A lot of them have continued to expand, as have we. We look back at good friends that have been with us since we were (young). It’s been a real pleasure.”
Next week: Adjusting with the times