With its opening coinciding with peak milk production in the South, Mataura Valley Milk (MVM) has had little time to take stock since it started production in August.

Start-up for the new plant has been exemplary in terms of hitting the ground running, with October seeing the plant reach its capacity with 700,000 litres being processed.

''It's a testament to all our contractors and staff that we've been able to jump straight to maximum production with a minimum of issues,'' MVM chief executive Bernard May said.

''Importantly, microbiological quality of the milk has been at a very high level which means we have been able to start off meeting the standards we have set ourselves,'' he said.

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MVM's products will be sold on the global market, with about 30% going into China.

Mr May said throughput has eased back to about 630,000 litres at present.

The plant has been built using the latest version of the best technology available and the fact that it has been built from the ground up gives MVM advantages in terms of being able to deploy advances made in milk processing.

Besides MVM's 27 farmer shareholders, another 24 farms have been supplying milk to the plant. In addition, milk has been bought from other suppliers supplied to specifications based around MVM's South45Milk Programme.

MVM pays a premium to its suppliers, paying the highest milk price in the South Island. As well there are additional incentives for a range of factors, including management practices.

He said MVM is building its quality standards around the quality of the raw milk, animal welfare, land and water stewardship, on-farm management practices (including moving away from palm kernel extracts) as well as stringent on-farm monitoring, utilising an electronic farm diary system.

Going forward, Mr May said MVM would continue to bring additional farms on board.

''At present we have 76 million litres per annum committed from our farmer shareholders,'' Mr May said. ''We have a list of farms who could join us in future, although their supply potential of more than 140million litres far outweighs our ability to process the product at present.''

He said Southland has a very professional, experienced agricultural sector and this has provided an important platform in helping the company get into production in such a short timeframe.

''It was important that we were able to demonstrate that we could put the plant under pressure and have it perform as it should,'' he said

The fact that it's a tight community with solid networks and relationships has also helped, he said.

About 65-70% of the staff have been employed locally and Mr May said the proximity of Gore with its established quality facilities for business and families has aided in the recruitment process when MVM has had to look further afield.

He said that while the plant was operating at capacity there was room for future expansion.

Southern Rural Life