Tim Gomez – Kansas Dairy Ingredients
Tim Gomez will never forget his 10-day trip to Switzerland in January 2020 right before COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt.
The Kansas entrepreneur wasn’t there to ogle at the Matterhorn or buy a cuckoo clock. Instead, Gomez toured farms in Gstadd—a place where cheesemaking has been revered for centuries—to learn more about dairy processing practices.
As the CEO of Kansas Dairy Ingredients, Gomez was eager to take what he learned back to the agricultural community in the states. Like much of Switzerland, Kansas has a long history of dairy farming, but Gomez says more farmers are looking to modernize their methods to become more profitable.
“We have a proud history in Southwest Kansas that is tied to the land and our herds, but we needed to update our practices,” Gomez says. “My takeaway from the Alps was that we needed to adopt a structured approached unique to us—but one that helps us learn from a time-honored tradition to benefit our customers.”
Unlike in Switzerland, however, American cheese production doesn’t hinge on aging wheels of Emmenthaler in moss-filled alpine caves.
Instead, KDI serves as a supplier of bulk ingredients to the dairy industry from its flagship facility in Hugoton. According to Gomez, the company has taken milk manufacturing to the next level, using a method known as “membrane processing” that separates milk into five components: water, butterfat, protein, sugars and minerals.
Up to 150,000 gallons of wastewater is produced each day. KDI recycles as much water as possible, using it to clean the production facility, irrigate crops and sow corn—which in turn feeds the dairy cattle that produce milk.
“The process comes full circle,” Gomez says, who notes KDI earned a pollution prevention award several times, most recently in September from the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7. “Our focus is on sustainability and caring for the environment.”
The road to milk production starts when KDI buys the commodity from area farms, which produce 3.3 million pounds of milk a day from 35,000 cows.
KDI was established as a small independent and privately-owned ultrafiltration facility in 2012, handling up to a million pounds of milk a day, used to make everything from cheese and ice cream to animal feed.
To boost production, in 2020 the company started construction on a new 90,000-square-foot facility, adding a variety of cheese and butter manufacturing lines (from industrial to artisanal) to support both small and large-scale food service clients. It also invested in new equipment to separate milk products to produce cheese and butter.
To support its growth, KDI completed its wastewater treatment facility ahead of time in 2019 to accommodate its increased production. Part of the project involved creating its own wastewater treatment system, which sent treated water via a pipeline to a lagoon near the farms to reuse for land applications, such as for planting crops.
“These improvements are helping us expand our food offerings by boosting production to extend our markets in the U.S. and abroad,” Gomez says. “The business can be hard, but when people work together, they can make a difference. It’s a pleasure to see this farming community rally behind what we’re doing and get excited about the opportunities we’re bringing to them.”
Cream is the crop
In late 2018, the company further diversified its operation by launching a sister company, Sawatch Artisan Foods. With KDI’s primary production lines in place, Sawatch Artisan Foods’ is investing in additional small-scale cheese and butter-churning equipment to support a new artisanal line of products, including specialty cheeses like Gouda, cheddar and slow-churned European-style butter with a high fat content (a favorite among pastry chefs.)
By April 2020, KDI had made significant inroads into the Colorado market selling its butter and cheese. Then COVID-19 hit, forcing KDI to make a hard pivot.
“We started to develop our e-commerce platform and attend farmers markets whenever we could, to tell our story to one person at a time,” Gomez says. “It’s all about taking care of our suppliers and giving our customers what they are looking for.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Gomez spent 23 years working with agriculture startups in his native New Mexico.
Building relationships with area farmers through his work at a dairy cooperative for 13 years, Gomez decided to develop his own firm, Kansas Dairy Ingredients, in 2008. For four years he developed the business before it “went live” by working with a group of area farmers, including Moscow and Tuls dairies in Southwest Kansas.
“The area was a ripe area of the country to grow the business,” Gomez says. “I engaged with farmers to help them understand the value of manufacturing milk to develop new markets. They could get involved and build out the footprint and move milk in a variety of ways.”
By 2012 the business was truly up-and-running and Gomez served as chief operating officer, later becoming its CEO in June 2021. KDI now works with farmers as far afield as Eastern Colorado and the Texas panhandle—sharing the company’s commitment to do the right things for the animals, farmers and the industry.
“We work with great people in these communities and are proud of our products, Gomez says. “Consumers want to have more understanding of where their food comes from, and they support our efforts of responsible manufacturing. The dollar has power.”
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol I 2022 Edition here.
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