After three years of planning which produced a “multi-way partnership,” a $555 million cheese plant was announced Aug. 8 in St. Johns.
The plant, which is expected to open in 2020, will bring more than 250 jobs and use 8 million pounds of milk per day to produce 800,000 pounds of cheese per day.
The partnership between Glanbia Nutritionals, an Irish company, Dairy Farmers of America, Select Milk Producers and Proliant Dairy Ingredients, headquartered in Iowa, will establish two “cutting edge” dairy processing companies that will produce hard cheeses and whey powders.
With help from local and state governments, the project is expected to take some pressure off dairy farmers, who have been suffering for several years due to depressed dairy prices.
“They wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t a smart business move,” said Governor Rick Snyder. “They had choices, and they chose Michigan,” he said.
The process which led to the announcement was “nothing but positive across the board,” said John Dardis, senior vice president of group sustainability and U.S. corporate affairs with Glanbia, who noted that his company’s name means pure food.
“We were blown away by the cooperation of the governor, the mayor (of St. Johns), The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, transportation …local and city officials in Clinton County, the MEDC, and the list goes on and on,” he said. “How all of you came together is a secret that needs to be told, and really impressed us,” he said. “Michigan has done what it said it would do and delivered, and that’s exciting for us.”
Dairy farmers cannot be discounted in the process, either, said John Wilson, senior vice president and chief fluid milk marketing officer with Dairy farmers of America.
“Farmers are the owners of Dairy Farmers of America,” he said. “The farmers are putting up half the money to make this plant happen here.”
Wilson said the new state-of-the-art plant will be a “cookie cutter” of the business model in New Mexico (Southwest Cheese) that he said has been successful for many years.
Noting that more than half the milk produced in the United States goes to cheese, Wilson said “this plant fits like a glove in the overall dairy economy.”
Not only will the plant support people, it will support about 100,000 dairy cows, said Mark Peterson vice president of business development with Proliant Dairy Ingredients.
“This will be the world’s largest permeate drying plant,” he said. “That’s pretty exciting for us. We are proud to put our name on this site and proud to put our name in the state of Michigan.”
The bottom line, of course, is the health of dairy farmers, and the long-awaited plant is a chance to help them get healthy again.
“Hopefully this will lift up the livelihood of dairy farmers,” Dardis said.