Construction on a $57.9-million dairy processing plant is slated to begin as the state tries to manage its plethora of milk.
Foremost Farms USA, a Wisconsin-based farmer-owned milk processing and marketing cooperative, will begin a multiyear project on a 96-acre site in Greenville in the next few weeks.
The plant will include a 55,000-square-foot milk condensing facility set to be complete by the end of the year. Once in operation, the facility is estimated to condense 3.2 million pounds of raw milk per day, which is about 386,000 gallons.
There are 12 other milk-processing plants in Michigan, which is not enough to help farmers with the abundance of milk that is being produced.
Karin Uebbing is a herd share farmer who owns Woodbridge Dairy Farm in Byron Center. She helps fellow farmers to milk, bottle and deliver their milk.
Although Uebbing said her business will not be affected by Foremost Farms’ proposed milk-processing plant, she sees how the oversupply of milk is affecting others.
“The dairy industry right now is very broken, and it breaks my heart to watch my neighbors sell off farm after farm … family after family,” Uebbing said. “The dairy industry has been overproducing and has been paid to overproduce by Dairy Farmers of America, Michigan Milk Producers Association and by the government in general.
“So now, they have paid to overproduce, hence, now there is a flow of milk and a lot of dairy farmers have fallen on hard times because there is too much milk and now there are not enough plants. This is why they are trying to put a plant in, but it doesn’t affect me as much as it would affect a commercial farm.”
From an economic standpoint, the new facility will provide Michigan dairy farmers with a much-needed financial boost due to the current lack of available processing capacity in the state, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
The plant is designed to help curtail a $168 million estimated loss by Michigan milk producers in 2017.
“This is the best opportunity to add value to our members’ milk and to their farms,” said Ralph Briggs, chief operating officer for Foremost Farms.
According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan has 419,000 dairy cows and nearly 1,800 dairy farms throughout the state.
Michigan is the second-highest state in the country for production of milk per cow, with each cow producing an average of 25,957 pounds of milk per year.
Briggs said the 1,275 members of the cooperative also are owners.
“In the West Michigan area, there are probably 40 farms that are in a good geographical area of the (future) processing plant,” Briggs said. “Our primary concern is to work with those farmers. We will focus on the members who are in that area for their milk supply, but we will also strategically (get) other milk to balance our needs at that facility to optimize our production capabilities.”
He said the farmers who are members of Foremost Farms already have established farms.
“They vary in size from, say, 50 to 100 to 6,000 cows,” Briggs said. “So, all various sizes of farms, and of course, big farms have several milkers. So, they’ve hired farmers (for their own farms).”
Foremost Farms will be purchasing about half of its milk from their members and the other half from companies and other cooperatives.