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A Legacy of Innovation
How Blackwell Dairy Built, and Rebuilt a Resilient Dairy Hub
 Laura and Ted Blackwell enjoy the rewards and challenges of their farm-to-consumer dairy enterprise.
Ray Gourlay
Blackwell Dairy was established by Milton and Agnus Blackwell in 1913 in Barnhartvale, the fertile plain along the South Thompson River, East of Kamloops, BC. In the early days, the Blackwells sold their farm products at the Kamloops farmers market and through door- to-door deliveries.
The farm continued to grow and in 1928 they moved their operation to another nearby farm where they built a new dairy barn and established their long- term home. In fact, during that first winter of milking cows, the new barn was their home; Arthur recalled camping out in the hayloft with his brother Everett after milkings.
In 1947 Arthur took over the 25-cow farm from his father, Milton, but the lack of structure in the dairy industry led to a challenging market and eventually, strong wool and lamb prices led the Blackwells to sell their dairy herd and focus on sheep. The sheep business was successful; they used to drive their flock of over a thousand head down Highway 1 to pasture!
Eventually,NewZealandlambbeganflowingoverthe border at impossibly low prices, forcing yet another re-evaluation for the Blackwell family. Arthur’s mind was made up after suffering a heart-attack and in 1966, they sold the sheep. Their teenage son, Ted, who had already formed a partnership with Arthur boarding and breaking horses, developed a passion for dairy, so they went back to their roots and bought cows. At this point, the dairy industry had further organization/ structure, growth on the processing side and oversight from a milk board. This provided the stability needed for a prosperous industry. By 1970, Ted had grown the new herd to 80 cows and married sweetheart, Susan.
In the early 1980s, North Okanagan Creameries Association (NOCA) was struggling amid the widespread consolidation happening among dairy cooperatives across the province. Ted seized the opportunity to build their own processing facility.
In 1983 they started bottling and selling fluid milk from their own cows. The plant output grew rapidly, requiring milk from neighbouring farms. When they incorporated in 1986, they were selling the equivalent to 800 cows’ production! Blackwell Dairy continued to strengthen their brand and grow their business over the coming years, including the development of up to 48 flavours of ice cream and numerous fluid milk products. Arthur and Ted remained partners until Arthur’s passing in 2004.
A New Generation
After over ten years in hotel management and sales, Ted and Susan’s daughter Laura and her husband Ryan Hunter moved back to the farm to take on key roles in the management team. With the dairy plant and sales well established, the Blackwells focused on some major improvements on their farm including extensive field upgrades, land reclamation, and the installation of four pivots. They also replaced their barn and installed two robots, which the cows love. Recognizing business diversity as a strength, they added a beef herd and a gravel yard to supplement the dairy business. They increased their land base to about 1,800 acres and found the ‘sweet spot’ with their dairy herd, milking 75 cows.
The Blackwells faced an enormous challenge in June 2017 when the entire 9000 sq ft processing facility burned overnight. They credit the gallant efforts of their local fire department along with friends and neighbours for preventing any people or animals from being harmed
in the fire. The damage was limited to their plant, and it wasn’t long before construction was underway on a new and improved facility.
Their new bottling
plant opened in
February 2019.
Though built on
the same footprint
as the original
building, the new
space allowed for more cold storage, a larger store, and other equipment upgrades and efficiencies. Starting their business anew just as COVID-19 emerged proved to be quite challenging and they struggled to fill some staff positions. However, new opportunities presented themselves when larger processors could not consistently adapt to the supply chain shortage; being a small, nimble bottling plant, Blackwell Dairy received numerous orders from grocery stores whose shelves were empty.
One of their current challenges is the growing differential between the blend price paid to farmers and the price at which they purchase the milk for their processing business – even though it never leaves
the farm. Laura and Ted admit that it’s made the margins slimmer, but they are planning for growth and determined to keep adapting and finding creative solutions to every challenge. In addition to their range of fluid products, they’ve noticed strong demand for sour cream and buttermilk. They are especially well known for their chocolate milk which represents a whopping 25% of their milk sales.
After 108 years in operation, Blackwell Dairy continues to be a family business and a labor of love. “We’re more than just a business,” says Ted, “We’re a family operation and our heart and souls are in what we’ve done.” Ted remains actively involved in all aspects of the business, while Laura manages the cows, the processing, general administration, and Ryan oversees fieldwork. The fifth generation, Matthew (17),
Three generations of Blackwells taking the farming life in stride.
  A clean, attractive farm store greets visitors and customers.
Reid (16), and Emily (14) are all working in and learning about the family business too. The farm employs two full-time and up to ten part-time workers. The processing side employs eight people in roles such as packaging, administration, and deliveries.
Their company tagline is ‘Your very own Dairy’ and it’s clear that, through whatever may come, Blackwell Dairy remains committed to their customers, their products, their cows, and their farm, continuing their legacy, perhaps for another 108 years!

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