Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 11 News List

The changing face of the Paweng Dairy Zone

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN TAINAN

David Wu, owner of Commander's Dairy Farm in the Paweng Dairy Zone, demonstrates his milking technique. Paweng's dairy farmers are having to be creative about the ways in which they do business as they have battled to come to terms with international competition since Taiwan joined the WTO in 2002.

PHOTO: JESSIE HO, TAIPEI TIMES

At 1am in the morning, when most people are still fast asleep, David Wu (吳政衛), owner of Commander's Dairy Farm (營長牧場) in the Paweng Dairy Zone (八翁酪農區), is loading milk produced on his farm onto the trucks from the milk factories. Job done, Wu wipes the sweat from his forehead and walks home in the dark, happy in the knowledge that consumers will have fresh milk on their breakfast tables when they wake up.

Having grown up on the farm he inherited from his father, Wu witnessed the development of the dairy industry in Taiwan. He was proud to see Paweng become the nation's largest dairy production zone, which now supplies 20 percent of the fresh milk sold through major brands such as Uni-President Enterprises (統一), Kuang-Chuan (光泉) and Wei-chuan Food (味全).

Paweng is located in Tainan County's Liouying Township (柳營), which is part of the fertile Chianan Plain. With unpolluted meadows and a good water supply, the area has been producing milk since 1974, when the government imported 240 milk cows from New Zealand and distributed them to 40 households in the town.

Today, 83 households in the Paweng Dairy Zone keep about 12,000 cattle and produce a total of 150 tonnes of milk every day.

"It is a fact that cows outnumber people here," Wu laughed.

In addition to the farm work that has kept him busy his whole life, Wu now has other things on his mind.

Together with other traditional industries, the dairy sector bore the brunt of Taiwan's entrance to the WTO at the end of 2002. Having to compete with a wide array of products from all over the world crippled the dairy industry in Taiwan, with the result that daily production of milk in Paweng Dairy Zone dropped significantly, Wu said.

To weather the crisis, Wu transformed Commander's Dairy Farm into a guest farm two years ago as part of the community's restructuring process. Visitors to the farm can now sample peaceful country life, learn how to milk a cow and go for bike rides in the countryside.

In addition to farm-fresh milk, which is always available to visitors, Wu has developed a wide range of dairy snacks and fine cuisine. These include milk pudding, breads, ice cream, yogurt and the highly popular milk hot pots.

Apart from dairy products, one of the major selling points of the guest farm is a 15-minute joyride on an old railway line that Taiwan Sugar Co (Taisugar, 台糖) once used to transport sugar cane. Taisugar's sugar refining factory in Tainan's Hsinyin Town (新營) was closed in 2001 and the line was opened to the public on Dec. 6, 2003.

"Instead of driving directly to our farm, many visitors park their cars at the station and take the train, which evokes nostalgia about the early days," Wu said.

The transformation from dairy farm to guest farm has proven successful, as the farm now attracts an average of 1,000 visitors per day, with visitor frequency peaking at 10,000 a day during holidays, according to Wu.

The extra income from the flourishing tourist business helps the marginal dairy farm to survive, but to Wu, another important function of the tourist attraction is enhancing visitors' awareness of locally produced products.

"Many local consumers prefer foreign brands of milk and believe the quality is better, but they don't know that every drop of fresh milk they drink is from Taiwan, as the foreign companies also source their milk from us," Wu said.

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