A Greenville property has been purchased by Foremost Farms for a dairy processing facility.
Foremost, a dairy cooperative based in Wisconsin, announced its plan Nov. 9 for a plant to “receive up to six million pounds of raw milk per day,” depending on pending “approvals of necessary local and state incentives and support, including a long-term wastewater treatment solution.”
“This facility is planned to be operational in 12-to-14 months and would receive up to six million pounds of raw milk per day,” Foremost said in a press release. “Foremost Farms would initially process milk solids for internal use in farmer-owned production facilities in the Upper Midwest, and for sales to customers and to strategic alliance partners.”
The 96-acre property is currently vacant, Foremost indicated in the press release.
“It is our goal to continue to work with our strategic partners/alliances like we have established in the region with Michigan Milk Producers Association at Constantine, Mich., to maximize dairy farmer investments, stabilize the regional milk market and add value for all producers in this market,” said Foremost CEO Michael Doyle. “Foremost Farms’ executive management and board of directors plans to strategically build this facility in Greenville in order to control our own destiny in Michigan and unify our seven-state membership. All of our members produce high-quality milk, and this facility is part of the plan to optimize that value today and into the future.”
What about cheese?
Whether the announcement slows plans for a cheese plant envisioned by Michigan Milk Producers (MMPA), Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Foremost and Glanbia, one thing is expected: If the Foremost plant is built, it will absorb nearly all of Michigan’s current milk overproduction.
By taking another 6 million pounds per day of milk from Michigan dairy farms, the planned plant will certainly help farmers, and not just Foremost members, said Chris Wolf, professor of agriculture economics and dairy expert with Michigan State University.
“More processing means less dumping and less distressed sales,” he said. “And we know that Greenville is close to a lot of milk in Clinton, Ionia and Gratiot counties, and it’s not too far from the highway,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to begin adding cows, but this plant could take a lot of excess milk. Our milk production growth is slowing, but we’re still growing at about 3 percent above national growth. I think this plant is very good news as long as it doesn’t mean something bad for the cheese facility. If we keep growing in milk production, one plant may not make much difference, but it’s good to take the portfolio approach and have multiple things to address the overproduction.”
Ken Nobis, president of the MMPA, agreed.
“We will need more than just a cheese plant in Michigan,” he said. “This announcement by Foremost does not put that in jeopardy, but when you have multiple entities involved in building something, that doesn’t shorten the decision-making process. The cheese plant is moving forward, even if there is one less entity involved. It just takes time.”
While dairy farmers will need to exercise some patience while the Foremost plant and a cheese plant moves forward, there is hope for a better future in dairying, said Chuck Courtade, director of customer relations with DFA.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel now,” he said. “I just hope the farmers can hang on during these low prices.”
Courtade said when both the raw milk plant and a cheese plant are up and running, dairymen could expect a pay increase.
“If the excess capacity is gone, it would reduce some deductions of their milk checks,” he said. “If more milk stays here, we might get closer to the federal marketing order price.”
It’s been a long wait, but between Foremost’s announcement and the apparent commitment to a cheese plant in the near future, farmers, and especially Foremost suppliers, are anticipating better times that are nearer than they thought just a few months ago.
“Between the two plants, we should be able to even handle some normal growth,” Courtade said.
Among the things that remain unclear is whether the cheese plant will have Foremost involvement.
“I can’t speak to the joint venture (cheese plant), but I can say that this (raw milk plant) is a totally separate facility, a totally different project,” said Laura Mihm, spokesperson for Foremost. “The Greenville property we closed on is about 27 miles from the epicenter of our members. But we are still talking with our strategic alliance about something in the future. We’re always willing to work with others. That’s the cooperative spirit.”
Mihm would not rule out that co-op’s continued involvement with a cheese plant in Michigan, but she said for now, Foremost is excited for its new unilateral Michigan venture.
“We are incredibly energized by this,” she said.