Three co-ops explore major joint cheese plant in Michigan, and Dairy Farmers of America will expand an existing plant. Grass-fed milk standards are open for review. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants less sodium in cheese. This and other U.S. dairy industry news can be found here.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Three co-ops explore joint ownership of Michigan cheese plant

Two developments regarding Michigan milk processing capacity were announced recently, although it’s still unclear how closely they are linked.

In late May, officials of three farmer-owned dairy cooperatives said they were exploring joint ownership and operation of a major cheese processing plant in Michigan. The partnership involves Foremost Farms USA, Baraboo, Wisconsin; Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Kansas City, Missouri; and Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA), Novi, Michigan.

No specific timeline or location was disclosed. The release said the plant is expected to process 6 million pounds of milk a day and make 220 million pounds of American-style cheese annually.

Cass City expansion

About a week later, DFA disclosed it will expand an existing Cass City, Michigan, facility. That plant, constructed in 2013, currently processes about 3 million pounds of milk into cream, condensed whole milk and condensed skim milk. No timeline was provided.


In a follow-up statement released June 7, DFA said the Cass City expansion was already under consideration when the $40 million plant was initially built.

“We are currently exploring a number of scenarios for the expansion of the [Cass City facility],” according to the statement. “Exact details of the project are being finalized and will complement the joint partnership recently announced between DFA, Foremost Farms and Michigan Milk Producers.”

The Huron Daily Tribune reported the Cass City expansion is on 40 acres located within a Michigan Renaissance Zone, a classification providing substantial tax incentives for companies creating investment and new jobs.

Joint cheese plant

The decision to create a cheese processing plant is driven by the growing milk supply in Michigan, the lack of available processing capacity within the region, market accessibility and transportation benefits, the co-op officials said.

The state’s April 2016 milk production was up 6.5 percent compared to a year earlier, with cow numbers up 13,000 head. While Michigan ranks eighth in cow numbers, it ranks second (behind only Arizona) in milk production per cow, and sixth in overall milk production.

“Michigan dairy producers own some of the most progressive and efficient dairy operations in the world, and they have positioned themselves to be a long-term supplier to domestic and global markets,” said Michael Doyle, president and CEO, Foremost Farms USA. “Collectively, our respective organizations are extremely pleased we can come together to positively address this growing market.”

“Strategically, Michigan is well situated geographically to serve not only major U.S. markets, but also global markets. In addition to the quality milk supply in the region, it has a solid transportation infrastructure, one well served by major highways and various ports,” said Greg Wickham, DFA chief financial officer.

“We are excited to potentially leverage the strengths and assets of our three cooperatives in order to accommodate the growing milk production in Michigan,” said Joe Diglio, general manager, Michigan Milk Producers Association. “Working collaboratively helps enhance our ability to better serve dairy producers in this region and align the marketing strengths of our organizations together.”

Foremost Farms USA, headquartered in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is a farmer-owned milk processing and marketing cooperative with about 1,500 members and annual sales of $1.5 billion. It is the nation’s eighth-largest cooperative and number 25 in annual sales among the top 100 U.S. dairy processors.

DFA is a national dairy marketing cooperative owned by nearly 14,000 members on nearly 8,000 farms in 48 states.

MMPA is a member owned and operated dairy cooperative serving approximately 2,000 dairy farmers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. MMPA owns milk processing plants in Ovid and Constantine, Michigan, and the cooperative handles more than 5 billion pounds of milk annually.

‘Grass-fed’ standards open for comment

A working group has developed provisional production standards for “grass-fed” dairy to guide future marketing claims.

Earlier this year, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) initiated efforts to create an industry standard for certifying grass-fed dairy production.

Read: American Grassfed Association seeks ‘grassfed’ dairy standards

A group of stakeholders and experts, including CROPP/Organic Valley, Maple Hill Creamery, Traders Point Farm Organics, Trickling Springs Creamery, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, NOFA-New York Certified Organic, Dr. Meg Cattell and Dr. Arden Nelson, are collaborating with AGA to create a science-based standard to provide an economically feasible blueprint for producers and a guarantee that consumers’ expectations are met when they purchase grass-fed dairy products.

The combined working group has reached consensus on a provisional production standard (PDF, 481KB) that will form the basis for the grass-fed dairy market claim. This provisional standard has been distributed to various producer groups for feedback and is now available for public comment. Comments are requested by June 30.

CWT assists with export sales

Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) export assistance bids accepted for the week ending on June 4:

• Cheese – 659,182 pounds

• Butter – 104,720 pounds

• Whole milk powder – 132,277 pounds

Bids were accepted from Northwest Dairy Association (Darigold) and Michigan Milk Producers Association.

Year-to-date accepted bids:

• Cheese – 23.9 million pounds

• Butter – 8.6 million pounds

• Whole milk powder – 18.6 million pounds

• Milk equivalent (milkfat basis) – 550.5 million pounds

Source: National Milk Producers Federation

Companies and products

News concerning dairy processors and products:

Valley Milk LLC, Turlock, California, is among eight companies participating in a USDA-led trade mission to Ukraine and Romania, June 11-18. Participants also include representatives from the Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oregon departments of agriculture.

General Mills announced a strategic partnership with Wisconsin-based Organic Valley to ensure organic milk sources for its yogurt brands. The strategic alignment will build General Mills’ relationships with organic farmers who supply its U.S. yogurt operating unit, which includes Yoplait, Annie’s, Liberté and Mountain High brands. The partnership will help about 20 dairy farms add approximately 3,000 acres to organic dairy production over the next three years. General Mills is seeking to double the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients by 2019.

In addition, General Mills will launch the Organic & Regenerative Agriculture Transition Council, which will bring together sustainable agricultural leaders, farmers and industry stakeholders with the mission of advancing organic and regenerative agriculture practices. The first project will focus on dairy.

FDA wants less sodium in cheese

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is encouraging food companies to reach voluntary sodium reduction targets for their products, including cheese.

FDA drafted two-year and 10-year targets to gradually cut U.S. per capita consumption of sodium, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Cheese is one of the categories identified for sodium reduction. Cheese-based sauces and dips are listed in a separate category, and cheese-based appetizers and pizzas and sandwiches made with cheese are included with other combination foods. Butter and cream-based dips, including sour cream and cream cheese dips, also have targets, but no other dairy products were mentioned.

Cheese represents about 8 percent of the sodium in the American diet. Salt is a critical component of the cheese-making process, controlling moisture, texture, taste, functionality and food safety, said Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs.

Published in the Federal Register, FDA is accepting feedback until Aug. 31 on the two-year targets, and Oct. 31 on the 10-year targets.

FDA finalizes ‘food defense’ rule

The FDA will require food companies to develop written action plans to counteract the possibility that an act of intentional adulteration could affect the U.S. food supply and cause widespread public harm. The proposal is the seventh and final major rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The rule applies to most domestic and foreign food facilities registered with the FDA, but does not cover farms. For dairy farms, the agency said the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments would be the appropriate platform to address these operations, according to the IDFA.  PD

Dave Natzke