By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

A new dairy bottling facility in Bakersfield, which broke ground in 2021, is proceeding through city reviews for a long-life milk plant — the first of its kind in Kern County. Valley Natural Beverages, owned by California Dairies Inc., will bring an estimated 350 quality jobs to the area.

CDI currently owns six co-ops in California, with its main headquarters in Visalia. According to Peter Ernster, general manager of Valley Natural Beverages, the dairy bottling facility is partnering with local Kern County dairymen to supply the raw materials.

“All the milk that’s currently in Kern County goes south to LA or north to one of our two plants in Tipton or Visalia — our two milk powder and butter plants,” Ernster said. “Really, what VNV offers would be an opportunity to have that milk made by dairies in the Kern County area and then be shipped and processed and shipped back out as finished product out in Kern County… most of the milk is gonna come within 10 miles of the plant, which is a tremendous amount of mileage saving compared to what any dairy from Kern County does today because there’s no raw milk processing in Kern County.”

The facility will produce various dairy products, including ultra-high temperature milk and other products such as cream, condensed, skim, and powdered milk. Ernster explained that producing shelf-stable milk comes with an opportunity to put on more mileage and ship the product further.

He noted that the plant’s location on 8801 Gosford, north of Taft Highway, is ideally located roughly 130 miles away from the port of Los Angeles and plays into the facility’s ability to ship long-life milk products.

“Having the milk be made in Kern County and stay in Kern County to be processed and then shipped all over the world, that was one of the main focuses…this would be our most southern plant now. We used to have a plant in Artesia that we closed down a few years ago, and now we’ll have this plant in Bakersfield.”


According to Ernster, the facility will be designed in phases, with the first stage amounting to 200,000 square feet, and the full build-out is expected to be north of 400,000 square feet. The location also provides the facility access to water, power, wastewater, and well-established, responsible dairy farmers.

“The Kern County farmers are some of the most advanced dairy farmers in the world [in] their sustainability practices and their animal husbandry practices,” Ernster said. “It’s really a blessing for a division like VNV because we get to say we have some of the best milk in the world.”

He expanded on the facility’s plan to promote sustainability by reusing wastewater from the neighboring treatment plant for process water. Water is a necessary tool for the ultra-pasteurized process, and the ability to utilize wastewater — after multiple cleaning steps — will best employ available water resources without affecting surrounding farmers.

“But if you take a look at that water, it’s going somewhere else. It goes in the canal, goes down to LA, for all I know. But if we could take that water, use it for process water — not sanitary water — not for drinking fountains…we’ll be able to use that, and then it would just kind of recycle back in, back to that wastewater treatment plant across the street,” Ernster said. “You’d really have a multi-use water system, and we wouldn’t have to pump out of the aquifer, just be able to reuse as much of that water as possible in a way that’s not irrigation water for the plant or irrigation water for the farmer.”

The State Water Board will ultimately decide if Valley Natural Beverages can reuse the wastewater, and Ernster explained that it’s never been done before in Kern County.

The dairy facility also plans to utilize a vertical methane digester for wastewater, and the biogas it produces will feed into some of the boilers. While the produced renewable natural gas will not be enough to power a boiler completely, the wastewater that has been processed through the digester will ultimately be cleaner when it is sent back to the wastewater treatment facility.

“It’s the right thing to do both environmentally, for environmental stewardship, but it’s also the right thing to do for a business,” Ernster said. “It adds value, it drives costs down, and drives efficiencies up. Why wouldn’t you do that as a businessman? It just makes sense.”

Another source of renewable energy would come from a separate piece of property owned by the company, which plans to establish a solar farm.


The facility will lean heavily into automation, limiting the amount of manual labor and warehouse jobs, but it intends to create an opportunity for highly skilled workers. The industry 4.0 jobs that will be provided include the proper management of robotic systems, and on-the-job training will be extensive to maintain the equipment, Ernster explained.

“That was another reason why Bakersfield became important because you have Bakersfield College and you have Cal State University of Bakersfield, which have these great engineering programs, which really we hope will provide a lot of our labor and a lot of our operators as well as engineers, as well as maintenance mechanics,” Ernster said.

Retention will be a main priority for the facility, as skilled labor often translates to valuable labor.

“We’re gonna have to maintain and retain those employees by keeping them paid in a matter that they want to stay for us,” Ernster said. “Because they’re gonna be highly recruitable, and so we’re going to be training a lot of people that are going to be valuable to other people as well.”

As a greenfield site, the plant was designed around the processes and flows in a straight line. Everything was built around a single flow to increase efficiency.

“Everything was built in that kind of straight line. We didn’t want to make any left turns or right turns,” Ernster said. “We wanted to make them as close together as possible to minimize milk runs because this process goes through steam sterilization. So, it’s just not a clean in place…so the more pipe, the more tanks, the more everything you have, the more steam you need to be able to sterilize everything.”

 The building combines concrete tilt-up and Insulated Metal Panels with a 75-foot-tall automatic storage and retrieval warehouse. The design also features stainless steel milk silos and water silos.

Ernster explained that Valley Natural Beverages is meant to positively impact members of CDI’s cooperative and other California dairymen by creating Class 1 milk to expand the existing pool of this high-quality product.

“Every dairyman will make more money based on this plan — they will get a higher milk check,” Ernster said. “There’s not a lot of investment going on in dairy in California, and this represents a very big investment, an intentional investment by CDI into California dairy.”

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