The latest in a long line of the world's largest cheese plants is up and running in Clovis, N.M., Leprino Foods is making major upgrades at several of its plants, and Hilmar Cheese is about to break ground at a greenfield site in the Texas panhandle. Cheese is not the only game in town when it comes to construction projects this year, but it seems to be the driver of the most substantial projects.
In upstate New York, Stueben Foods has begun a major expansion that will allow it to increase production of Horizon Organic milk. In New Hampshire Stonyfield Farms is doubling the capacity of its production facility to keep up with its double-digit annual growth.
Dairy Foods has identified 41 North American projects that are underway, in the planning stages, or have been recently completed. Certainly there are some out there that we do not know of, but this is a good snapshot of the current construction activities in dairy.
Mega cheeseProject partners Dairy Farmers of America, Glanbia Foods and Select Milk announced the Southwest Cheese project, in 2003. While the scope of the project has been known for some time, a Dairy Tech World Wide Food Expo presentation last year by Tim High, president of Carlisle Process Systems (CPS), really put it into perspective.
Southwest Cheese will be among the largest cheesemaking facilities in the world, producing more than 250 million lbs of cheese and 16.5 million lbs of whey a year. The 280,000 sq foot plant will employ 225 workers and will produce $340 million in annual sales. The total cost when completed will exceed $200 million.
The footprint site is 54 acres, but it sits within 2,000 acres that is controlled by the partners. And it includes a massive wastewater lagoon. CPS was hired as the main process engineer and worked with other companies including Tetra Pak, Millerbernd Design & Fabrication, Alfa Laval, Emerson, Rockwell and Fristam to design and build the systems at the plant.
CPS billed $70 million on the job plus $26 million for third party equipment. High said one of the biggest challenges to the project was managing the massive paper trail that was generated, and that was done through a dedicated website.
Not too far from Clovis, Hilmar Cheese is ready to begin constuction near the Texas panhandle town of Dalhart. It's been little more than a decade since cheese began coming out of the the plant in Hilmar, Calif., but after wrangling with state environmental officials there for the past few years, the company has decided that future growth of its business will be in Texas.
Lone Star state governor Rick Perry joined the company late last year in announcing plans for the $190 million plant which is expected to produce a half-million lbs of cheese daily once it's fully operational. Dalhart would begin first phase production in the fall of 2007.
Although its facilities are not nearly the scale of Hilmar and Southwest, Tillamook cheese has also stayed in the expansion mode the last few years. When Tillamook established the Columbia River Processing facility in Boardman, Ore., in 2001, it was designed to mirror the cooperative's headquarters plant in Tillamook. Now Tillamook is close to finishing an expansion at Boardman that will in effect give the company three times the production capacity it had before 2001. The co-op broke ground in early 2005 on the $50 million project and it is hoped that it will be completed by late 2006. Once operating, Tillamook's cheese production per year is expected to grow to 190 million lbs.
Organic demandSteuben Foods is planning an $18 million expansion at its Elma, N.Y., plant to increase capacity for organic milk and soy products. An organic milk processing facility is also being added through a joint development with Horizon Organic. Previously, Steuben had no raw milk processing capability at the plant which also manufactures aseptic pudding and other desserts.
Last fall, Stonyfield Farm broke ground on a project that will roughly double the size of its Londonderry, N.H., plant and increase annual capacity from 66,000 tons to 136,000 tons.
The expansion is slated for a late 2007 completion and will feature green construction practices and material. It will encompass new production space for upgraded systems and an additional 4-oz cup line, plus warehouse, receiving bay, and office expansions.
Last year the nation's largest organic yogurt maker installed a 50 kilowatt (kW) solar energy system as a means of fighting global warming and demonstrating the company's commitment to supporting renewable energy projects.
The 5,000 sq ft photovoltaic array will generate about 50,000 watts of energy on full sun days-that's comparable to the amount of electricity 10 homes might use on an annual basis.
In addition to energy, the solar array also generates renewable energy credits, or "green tags," which represent the environmental benefits of energy generated by this non-fossil fuel source. Stonyfield Farm has donated the rights to all of the green tags generated by the project over its entire operating lifetime, about 25 years, to Clean Air - Cool Planet, a science-based non-profit with offices in Portsmouth, N.H., whose goal is to promote effective solutions to the threat of global warming.
Meanwhile Straus Family Creamery, Petaluma, Calif., is about to trade up to a 50,000 sq ft modern facility. Straus is a family farm-based company that sells a full line of organic dairy products made from the milk of their own cows and those of nearby organic farms in Marin County, Calif.
More cheeseOther companies investing in new plants or expansions include more cheesemakers. Leprino Foods, the leading pizza cheese manufacturer in North America will upgrade and expand six of its plants while adding a brand new facility in Michigan. Cabot Creameries, the cheesemaking division of Agri-Mark cooperative recently completed two plant expansions in Vermont.
As for milk plants, Dean Foods' Meadow Gold Dairies has completed its green field milk plant in Las Vegas, and there was some discussion early this year about the possibility that Dairy Farmers of America and a group of partners would be seeking a site in Kansas for a new milk plant.