Case study 03-SI

Toni Kukenberger

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Kukenberger farm is a small family owned farm that has a long tradition. Firstly, they were producing milk only for their family’s needs, but in the middle of 20th century they started selling it. The Kukenberger organic farm from Gorenje Ponikve near Trebnje is one of the few in Slovenia that has two certificates: they have an organic certificate for all dairy products, as well as a “Hay Milk” certificate. All cattle are grazing whole season which is possible with their innovative portable milking machine which enables them to milk the cows twice a day without bringing them to the barn. The milk of the traditional brown breed is processed into various dairy products: semi-hard cheeses, fresh cheeses, grilled cheese, several types of cottage cheese, yoghurts and cream, and butter. Kukenberger is the organic farm, where the experiences and ideas of the four generations meet.

Farm/Enterprise description

Concern for the highest quality products, animal and human well-being and a sustainable way of cultivating the land are the three strongest guidelines of their organic farm. On the farm they cultivate about 25 ha of arable land, where they produce exclusively hay, which is the basic fodder for their cattle. On average, they raise 20 dairy cows and 15 to 20 breeding heifers. They chose a breed that has been present in Slovenia for centuries. The milk of brown cows has much more protein than the milk of other breeds, and at the same time these proteins are of higher quality. For them, this means higher milk yield in processing and more delicious products for their customers. Since they are aware that the overexploitation of natural resources is harmful in the long run, in 2013 they also decided to switch to organic farming. In January 2015 they received an organic certificate for their milk and all dairy products. In four years, they have already received 10 gold awards at the national evaluations of Dobrota slovenskih kmetij, which is conformation that they are really doing their best, and it is also a strong incentive for their further work.

Good cow’s nutrition is the foundation for a quality milk and a high-quality dairy products. For farm to be successful it should be run as a company. “Every business has a chance to succeed, no matter the competition, as long as you do good.”

Toni Kukenberger

Multifunctional farming activities related to dairy processing / Innovation related to products and/or processing

On their farm they exclusively produce hay milk. The need of implementing reusable packaging for their products, came from consumers’ desire for environment friendly packaging. Their products are sold at their farm, at small healthy food shops, schools and high-end hotels. They also sell thru their on-line store, where they offer returnable packaging.
In 2016, they built a transportable milking machine that allows cows to be milked right on the pasture. In 2016, Toni received the award for the most innovative young farmer in Slovenia for this innovation. In addition to their own milk processing facility, they also have a room for group degustation. A new innovation was made in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, when they introduced the delivery of dairy products, in returnable refrigerated packaging. They are the first and only Slovenian provider of food products that enables a returnable packaging system. Products are delivered in thermos-boxes that keep the temperature well with a coolant inside. The products are in an insulated, refrigerated environment at the time of delivery, which prevents them from spoiling.

General considerations

Toni believes in quality, organic and traditional milk production. His vision stems from the belief that if you expect a lot from your cows, you must also give them a lot. Toni is a part of the network of farm cheesemakers, the association of hay milk and meat producers and the association for organic production. When he succeeded the farm from his father he decided to introduce organic farming and hay milk. The first obstacle was the location of their pastures which are not connected to their farm, which is located in the middle of their village. Toni solved this problem by creating a portable milking machine. He believes that the innovative multifunctional activities they introduced have added value to their dairy products. By integrating innovative multifunctional activities, they reduced business risk, increased their income and gained advantage before their competition. With his innovations, Toni wants to increase the visibility of his brand. He believes that the marketing aspect is extremely demanding for farmers, as they have to compete with large companies that employ entire teams for marketing, and the farmer has to deal with this aspect on his own at the end of a hard working day. Aware of the fast-paced lifestyle and the fact that people want to make all their purchases in one place, he does not sell his products at the market, but in shopping malls. In the future Toni wants to work on constantly upgrading and improving the quality of his dairy products, growing his new online store and building and developing a strong and successful brand for his farm. What Toni misses are support and education in terms of how to run a farm as a successful company, entrepreneurial content that would be adapted to the situation of young starting farmers and education in terms of developing and promoting his/hers own brand.

Training/Competences (Skills, Knowledge, Attitudes) especially relevant for the process

Toni believes that the basis of education should be a knowledge of milk processing. He attended practical classes of food processing, including a milk processing course at BC-Naklo. For a deeper knowledge and understanding of the technological part of dairy processing he read a lot of expert literature and often consulted experts in food technology in the field of dairy processing. What he also finds as important as milk processing skills is the knowledge of business management, marketing and branding. What he really misses are courses in brand development.