From Empire Farm & Dairy
By JIM KRENCIK
LINWOOD — New York is investing $2 million into WNY Cheese Enterprise, the latest development by a collaborative of eight Wyoming and Livingston County dairy farms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Dec. 23.
The Empire State Development-backed funding comes from $1.3 million taken out of the half-billion Upstate Revitalization Initiative Capital Grant program, and $700,000 in Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits tied to the 30 new jobs expected from the business.
“Agribusiness is a crucial part of the Upstate New York economy and this new manufacturing facility and the innovative collaboration it will house, will be a big boost to area dairy farmers looking to grow their businesses and create jobs,” said ESD President and CEO Howard Zemsky in announcing the award.
The $49.7 million production facility is a partnership between Craig’s Station Creamery, Dairy Farmers of America and Arla Foods. It will be located near the nexus of Livingston, Wyoming and Genesee counties at Noblehurst Farms, where the Craig’s Station Creamery opened in 2014.
Craig’s Station Ventures partner Chris Noble said the new 30,000-square foot facility broke ground just south of the creamery facility in August, and will hopefully be making Cheddar cheese by the end of 2017.
Member farms, with the support of DFA — a national dairy cooperative; and Arla Foods — an international dairy cooperative; are making their first foray into finished products after teaming on raw milk and dairy components.
“The last few years have been prolific from our dairies, we geared up to meet the needs (of the yogurt industry),” said Noble, Vice President of Noblehurst Farms. “Some of those needs haven’t materialized, so we were left with an oversupply of milk and an interest in having a facility to drive more production.”
It’s the most consumed cheese in America, Noble said. They expect to produce 15 million pounds of cheese annually from 16 million pounds of raw milk by member farms, which will then be processed in the DFA-operated facility and sold to the retail market by Arla Foods.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to not only positively impact the dairy farmers in this area, but also the local community,” said Brian Paris, the general manager of Craig’s Station Creamery.
Arla USA CEO Donald Stohrer, Jr. said his company, which has a 20 percent stake in the venture — DFA has a majority stake, with the farms holding the rest — sees the project aligning with customer needs.
“(The product will be a) great-tasting, clean label product from a trusted, sustainable and traceable source,” Stohrer said. “Today’s mom has a lot to worry about in her daily life. By providing her with the Cheddar cheese produced through our partnership with DFA, we give her one less thing to fret about, thus making her life just a little bit easier.”
A $560,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state was also awarded to support the project. Large scale projects are viable because of good partnerships like these, Livingston County Board of Supervisors Chairman Eric Gott said as part of a chorus of local officials praising the investment.
“We are thrilled to add WNY Cheese Enterprise to the growing lineup of food production businesses in Livingston County,” said Livingston County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Bill Bacon. “The project builds on our strengths in agriculture through milk quality, workforce in food production and central proximity to major markets in the Northeast.”
For DFA and Craig’s Station, the creamery has been a success in a market that faces challenges, from a yogurt boom that busted at Mueller Quaker Dairy to Canadian protectionism measures and low commodity prices. WNY Cheese Enterprise is a big project, but it’s fueled by clear goals.
“The main drivers for this project are even stronger today than they were over two years ago when we opened the Creamery,” Noble said. “Consumers want to know who produces their food, and they want to know that it was produced in a sustainable way. We thought the timing was right to bring that same message into a high-quality Cheddar cheese.”