Season 1, Episode 28
Benjamin Starr interviews Ross Hopper, the entrepreneur behind Maleny Dairies. Ross grew up on a dairy farm and in this amusing interview, Ross talks about life as a dairy farmer, how he supports local dairy farmers, cow cams and the tours they offer at Maleny Dairies.
Read the transcript
Ben: We’re driving our own adventure today with Ingenia Holidays and we’ve ended up at a dairy farm of all places. Ross Hopper, how are you?
Ross: Good mate, how are you going?
Ben: Good brother. Now, tell us about your wonderful farm here. This is an amazing little place.
Ross: Yeah, we’ve got our own spot of paradise up here and yeah things are working well, it’s good and glad you come up and check us out.
Ben: We hear a lot in the city about how hard it is for dairy farmers, you’re in the thick of it right out here. Can you give people an insight into life on a farm?
Ross: Yeah well, I probably got the easy end, I’ve chosen to build a milk factory, but yeah, my brother and his wife obviously run the farm. Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or a nice sunny day, whatever the weather is, they have to get out of bed and look after these cows.
Ben: I suppose you’re got to be a bit of an entrepreneur in this world of farming, I mean you’re pretty out there. You’ve created this factory, you’ve got a machine out there making bottles, there’s a lot of investment.
Ross: Yeah, we’re obviously believing in our customers, our customers have believed in us and we’ve got to keep moving forward and the idea is, don’t be left behind.
Ben: Give us an idea of how much milk comes out of here a week, so people get a perspective on what you’re doing.
Ross: We’re currently processing about two hundred thousand litres a week roughly and yeah; we actually do that on three days and on the other two days of we do custards and yoghurts and flavoured milks.
Ben: Growing up on a farm as a kid, how has it changed from say Mum and Dad’s time?
Ross: Lots, lots. I remember kicking Dad in the ribs you know, 4’oclock in the morning, come on let’s get up and get milk. It didn’t take me long to grow out of that, and I’m thinking that’s no good and I don’t know we’ve learned a few things. We learned a lot of things of what not to do too.
Ben: What advice do you have to people listening in today, like kids that are thinking, or Mums and Dads would like to sea change to get our own farm and get into this sort of industry. Is it best to be naive to walk into it, or do you do the research?
Ross: I wouldn’t encourage it, but if you’ve got heaps of money and you want to do it, definitely go get a heard of guernseys and we’ll buy your milk, we need more guernsey milk.
Ben: Really? And in terms of all the farmers around here, they would look to you is the go-to man. I mean you’re the guy that bottles it, sends it out. So, logistically this is a massive operation.
Ross: Yeah, we’ve got a fair few staff, we’ve got a fair few trucks on the road, we’ve got a line-up of farmers who want to supply to us, we’re paying the right price. We’ve got to keep it sustainable and the whole idea is if we want good milk off our farmers, we have to pay good milk.
Ben: What can people in the city do to help farmers?
Ross: Don’t buy the cheap milk because cheap and quality don’t go together and there’s a reason for it. If it’s cheap, there’s a reason and they cut corners and what we’re about, is not cutting corners. So, we’re paying the right price to our farmers and keeping them sustainable on the land, they’ll look after their environment, they’ll look after their cows and yeah, you get what you pay for.
Ben: You’ve got a big event coming up soon to promote everything that you do, can you tell us about that?
Ross: Well, we’ve partnered up with Maleny Black Angus, we’re gonna have a long table event and it’s going to be pretty long because we’re gonna have a 120 people seated at it, so yeah, it’s going to be something a bit different. And what more, you know, we’re proud of what we do up here, where we welcome people to come check us out you know. Where else can you see where your food comes from, right from the cow in the paddock, to your bottle in the fridge, you know, you get to see the whole process here. We’re selling Maleney to the public and you’re obviously get to sit in the paddock with the cows and enjoy a good feed.
Ben: I was intrigued to find out that you can adopt a cow. Yeah, well we can do all sorts of things here, but we won’t swap them for kids. If they can work, maybe we can do a deal, we’ll shoot them into the factory here and we’ll have a little production line. We’ll swap kids for cows.
Ben: Now we’re sitting in your really cool office, which is an old vault. You’ve got cameras everywhere; it’s a different world isn’t it? You’ve got to monitor everything on the farm, haven’t you?
Ross: Yeah, you never know where there is a camera, but all for a good reason and we even got cow cams, all of that sort of stuff so people can check us out online.
Ben: Schools would love that they could log into a cow cam. That would be a great thing, city kids would love that, every morning to check in on the cow.
Ross: We even had one, one of our cow cams was actually mounted on a cow, and you could see it checking out around the paddock, going for a walk and all that sort of stuff.
Ben: In terms of travelling around the region if you are staying up here, people should come up to your farm, so tell us what you do for the tours and other stuff that you offer?
Ross: Obviously the drive up here is a good start for a good dose of fresh air, you’ll get to see the obviously on our farm here with the factory, you get a guided tour up to where the cows get milked, and if you’re lucky enough to get here milking time, you actually get to see the cows in the dairy, and yeah we’ve got viewing glasses around the factory and your tour guide will explain what all the machinery is doing in certain areas.
Ben: And you’ve got the coffee shop, you can buy the yoghurt stuff as well. Where do you sell your products these days?
Ross: All our products covering Queensland, a lot of our IGA’s will cover all of Queensland and in southeast Queensland, Woolies and Coles. And the amount of comments that we get from customers on Facebook and all that, we just picked it up at way out places, like whether it’s the Atherton or Longreach or even just on the Gold Coast. It’s getting around.
Ben: Do you have to be eccentric to be in the business that you’re in?
Ross: I thought we were a bit silly after we started. We thought it would be simple, just you know. How hard would it be to get a bottle and stick it underneath the vat and turn the tap on and whack a cap on and sell it, but there’s a lot more involved than that and took us a few years to build it up to where we are.
Ben: Now the final question, we did an interview a couple of days ago with a guy that runs a brewery, he goes home and has a beer. Do you go home at the end of the day and have a glass of milk?
Ross: I’m guilty of having cream in my coffee. I like my wife; she makes it a good coffee with cream in it. So yeah, yeah, we do that, and we are guilty of having cream on a hot apple pie.
Ben: Fantastic. Now what’s the website that we can go to find out more about what you do here?
Ross: Yeah, well obviously there is malenydairies.com and obviously Facebook as well. It keeps us up to date with what’s happening.
Ben: Okay Ross, well thanks very much for your time Ross Hopper. We’ve been talking dairy farming tours, I’m a bit worried how we’re going to get out of this vault that you’ve got us locked in to. It is quite interesting in here isn’t it? Soundproof?
Ross: Depends on how much money you got as how quick you get out.
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