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Dairy industry continues to add capacity for volume, innovation

Editor’s note: Plants in Progress is a special segment spotlighting new facilities and growth in the U.S. dairy sector. As the industry works to meet new demand, growth and expansion are inevitable. Here, we provide a glimpse into new cheese and dairy plants going up around the country — from initial groundbreaking to full operation, and everything in between.

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — The U.S. cheese sector continues to expand as new plants are accommodating increased milk production and consumer demand for dairy products.

From coast to coast, companies are adding capacity and building new facilities with state-of-the-art equipment to accommodate volume, as well as bringing new jobs and opportunities to their communities. Cheese companies also are investing in their employees with revamped office spaces and amenities.

As consumers’ palates evolve, companies are adding more capacity for aging cheese and investing in new packaging flexibilities to add value on the dairy shelf.

As milk production continues to grow in Michigan, key industry players like Glanbia, Dairy Farmers of America and Foremost Farms are investing in capacity to make more cheese.

Meanwhile, the industry also is investing in the next generation with projects in key dairy states to bring newer, larger, state-of-the-art dairy facilities to students, teachers and plant workers at major universities.

Please read on as we provide a snapshot of some of the projects in development across the United States in this latest installment of Plants in Progress ...

• BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Glenville, New York

BelGioioso Cheese is constructing a $25 million cheese plant in the Glenville Business and Technology Park in Glenville, Schenectady County, New York. The plant is expected to create nearly 50 new jobs.

The company broke ground on the project last spring. Limited production will start soon, with full production possibly starting in April or May, says Errico Auricchio, president, BelGioioso Cheese.

The Green Bay, Wisconsin-based company plans to manufacture specialty Italian cheeses at the 96,000-square-foot plant.

• Foremost Farms USA, Greenville, Michigan

Foremost Farms has completed the first year of operating its new 55,000-square-foot milk condensing facility in Greenville, Michigan.

“The teams continue to maximize Phase 1 of the new state-of-the-art milk processing facility,” says Sydney Lindner, director of communications, Foremost Farms.

The milk condensing plant processed more than 900 million pounds of raw milk in 2019.

Company officials say the current staffing level is more than 40 employees, all of which were hired locally.

Greenville produces approximately 21 loads of reverse osmosis (RO) skim and six loads of cream each day to be used in Foremost Farms’ cheese and butter plants, and sold to outside customers.

The RO process results in a different percent of total solids from traditional condensed milk, which required Foremost Farms’ cheesemakers and others to work together on skim-solids integration, the company says. Using RO and other treatment options, the Greenville plant produces 90% of the water it uses for its cleaning systems.

• Great Lakes Cheese, Hiram, Ohio

Great Lakes Cheese in 2019 commenced construction on an expansion to its cheese plant in Hiram, Ohio, where the company also is building a new corporate headquarters facility.

The company currently has more than 650 employees in Ohio and expects to hire an additional 400 over the coming years as a result of these projects.

The new headquarters building will be constructed about 500 feet away from the existing plant in Hiram and is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2021. Upon completion it will be 55,000 square feet. The existing headquarters eventually will be remodeled to become a new cafeteria and include other amenities for plant employees.

Construction on the Hiram plant expansion has commenced on schedule, with the new expansion planned to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2020, Great Lakes Cheese says. The plant expansion is 300,000 square feet for a final building size of 650,000 square feet.

Great Lakes Cheese also has facilities in New York, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

• Milton Creamery, Milton, Iowa

Milton Creamery recently completed a major operations expansion at its plant in Milton, Iowa.

The project, which began last spring, will allow Milton Creamery’s operations and cheesemaking efforts to grow over the next several years, the company says.

The expansion project included construction of a 17,000-square-foot facility designed to age up to 1.5 million pounds of Milton Creamery’s award-winning Prairie Breeze, a white Cheddar-style cheese aged for a minimum of nine months, and other cheeses at any given time. The project also includes state-of-the-art cutting, processing and packaging rooms, laundry facility, employee break room, changing rooms and corporate offices in the mezzanine.

The building, designed by the Musser family, which owns Milton Creamery, was built by Seither & Cherry Construction of Keokuk, Iowa, and was erected just 300 feet away from the existing creamery, which also will be renovated to incorporate additional cheesemaking equipment and increased cheese production.

“The facility expansion is the project we always dreamed of and then some,” says Rufus “Junior” Musser IV, co-CEO of Milton Creamery. “We’re excited to share it with our current and future employees.”

Musser adds that the creamery previously transported cheese to a separate cold storage space it leased for aging, but with the expansion, all of the aging can be done in-house.

As Milton Creamery continues to grow, the company says it also will continue to support its community in rural Iowa by providing meaningful work and growth opportunities to the local workforce.

• MWC, St. Johns, Michigan — Joint venture between Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America, Select Milk Producers

Construction is underway on MWC, a joint venture cheese plant between Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Select Milk Producers Inc. in the City of St. Johns, Michigan.

The large-scale cheese and whey production facility — 50% of which is owned by Glanbia with the other half jointly owned by Select Milk and DFA — is expected to be complete in the fourth quarter of 2020 at a cost of $470 million.

John Dardis, senior vice president for group sustainability and U.S. corporate affairs, Glanbia, says work has progressed on site as scheduled and significant progress has been made on the building to date.

“The project build continues to track on-time and on-budget,” he says, noting more than 90% of the structure is in place, with the main focus shifting to electrical installation and finishes in the building
Hiring against the remaining 240 positions has commenced with the expectation to be fully staffed in line with the commissioning timeline, he adds.

“Our team has already seen 1,100 interested candidates through local career fairs — talent ranged from professional to entry level,” Dardis says.

The new plant, when fully commissioned, will be among the largest cheese manufacturing plants in the United States and the largest cheese facility in Michigan, with the additional localized processing expected to stabilize and strengthen Michigan’s dairy industry, joint venture partners say. Upon completion later this year, the facility will process 8 million pounds of milk per day into a range of cheese and whey products for U.S. and international markets.

• Noel-Nordfelt Animal Science Goat Dairy and Creamery at the University of California-Davis, Davis, California

Last month marked the formal opening of the University of California-Davis Noel-Nordfelt Animal Science Goat Dairy and Creamery. A celebration was held Jan. 25 for the new 2,420-square-foot facility, which includes a milking parlor, milk room, clean room, aged cheese room and packing room. The facility will help students model common animal husbandry issues facing production goat dairies and provide a space where students, staff, faculty and industry stakeholders can process milk and make cheese on state-of-the-art equipment.

Noel-Nordfelt Animal Science Goat Dairy and Creamery is the only university-run goat dairy and creamery, says Benjamin Rupchis, manager of the Goat Teaching and Research Facility.

The cheese produced at the creamery eventually will be sold at the campus Meat Lab and used in some campus eateries, and small-scale homestead cheesemakers will have new opportunities to hone their craft on campus, Rupchis says.

Each year, about 1,000 students study goats in their courses at UC-Davis. The herd size fluctuates between 65 and 125 Alpine, Saanen, LaMancha and Recorded Grade goats, all of them registered through the American Dairy Goat Association and housed in pens surrounding the main barn, which is adjacent to the new creamery.

Construction on the new facility began in September 2018 and was completed in December 2019.

• Straus Family Creamery, Rohnert Park, California

As it marks its 26th anniversary this year, Straus Family Creamery is planning to move its creamery from West Marin, California, to Rohnert Park, California.

Originally planned as a $20 million construction project, the creamery now is slated to go into a 79,000-square-foot building once the current occupant finds a new home. Upgrades will be made to accommodate creamery operations.

The new facility will have the capacity to almost double Straus’ current production of 16,000 gallons of milk per day. The company’s 300-cow Straus dairy farm will remain at its current location in Marin County, company officials say.

Currently, Straus Family Creamery’s product line includes milk and cream in reusable glass bottles, yogurt, butter, sour cream, ice cream and a variety of wholesale and specialty dairy products that are distributed throughout the Western United States.

• Sweet Grass Dairy, Thomasville, Georgia

Progress is “moving right along” on a new production facility for Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia.

The new 12,000-square-foot space will feature a state-of-the-art production facility with customized environmental controls to maintain the correct temperature, humidity and airflow in the cheese aging rooms, a packaging area for the company’s mail order program, and an office area with meeting rooms.

The new building also will include a break room for employees to recharge during and after their shifts.

“We are so excited about the ability to increase our production capacity of our handcrafted cheeses. For the last three years, we have been looking forward to telling the story of Southern cheeses and the special grass-based milk that is able to be produced in Georgia,” says Jessica Little, co-owner, Sweet Grass Dairy.

Sweet Grass Dairy has been making handcrafted cheeses since 2000 in its existing 5,000-square-foot facility. While the Southeast represents the company’s largest market share, the cheeses are distributed nationally and have found success in both foodservice and retailers across the nation, Little says.

With six core cheeses in its line up, Sweet Grass Dairy is hoping this new facility will provide an opportunity to improve cheese consistency and quality, Little says.

The company is hoping to be in the building this fall.

• University of Wisconsin-Madison Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wisconsin

The State of Wisconsin Building Commission recently approved a $25.7 million increase in the project budget for the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR) and the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant addition.

The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) thanked Gov. Tony Evers and members of the building commission for their support of the CDR/Babcock Hall Dairy Plant project.

“Industry donors were proud to contribute $18.5 million to the building project at its start, and they’re contributing once again because the center plays an essential and inimitable role in dairy processing research, business development and training,” says John Umhoefer, executive director, WCMA. “This additional money will ensure the renovated and expanded facility will meet industry needs now and for decades to come.”

With project design complete, including technology and equipment purchases, the total cost of the project has reached $72.6 million.

The project will construct a three-story addition and remodel portions of Babcock Hall to house CDR. It will demolish 2,770 square feet of space within Babcock Hall, demolish the 3,200-square-foot Science House, construct an approximately 48,569-square-foot addition to the west of the existing building and renovate about 28,905 square feet in the existing building.

The renovation and addition will provide a state-of-the-art production, teaching, and research facility for both CDR and the food science department’s dairy plant.

The project will address infrastructure deficiencies and functional issues within the dairy plant, as well as provide additional research and instructional space to serve the expanding programs within CDR.

Last year it was also announced that 300,000 square feet within the CDR project will be allocated for a new Beverage Innovation Center. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is awarding a $750,000 grant for the center, and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is providing a $250,000 grant for the project.

• University of Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, Wisconsin

Meanwhile, WCMA also recently pledged an additional gift of $50,000 to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Foundation to kick off the final phase of the fundraising campaign for the school’s dairy pilot plant renovation.

The UW-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant is expected to be fully operational by fall 2020. The plant is expected to double in size to 6,000 square feet. Construction began in June 2018, and the first piece of equipment — a reverse osmosis/ultrafiltration combo from Complete Filtration Resources Inc. — was installed Jan. 10, 2020, in the renovated facility.

The completed dairy plant and state-of-the-art training room will allow UW-River Falls to increase its training programs for the dairy industry, which now include cheesemaker training, pasteurizer operator and food safety courses.

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