November 9, 2012
Yogurt boom poses challenges
Industry leaders gather at Cornell conference to plot future
Photo provided by Cornell University
Howard VanBuren of dairy company Chr. Hansen demonstrates various methods of making yogurt Thursday at the Food Science Lab during Cornell University’s yogurt and dairy industry forum.
ITHACA — The need to find more workers and increase milk production are among the challenges a yogurt boom poses in upstate New York, according to participants at a meeting Thursday afternoon at Cornell University.
Bill Byrne, chairman of the board of Byrne Dairy Inc., and Darrel Aubertine, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, were among the industry leaders to attend the conference.
The dairy industry’s ability to create jobs in the outside community was lauded.
Aubertine noted that the dairy industry supports the trucking and fuel industries, as well as equipment dealers.
“Those are all jobs in those separate sectors,” he said.
Expanding the dairy industry will not be easy.
An estimated 200,000 additional cows are needed in the state to keep up with the increased demand for milk due to the yogurt boom, Aubertine said.
Byrne Dairy announced a $20 million-plus project at the Finger Lakes East Business Park in Cortlandville on Oct. 31, which includes building a yogurt plant, an agritourism visitors center, a refrigerated warehouse, a specialty cheese plant and additional yogurt plants for the company’s European partners in four phases.
Byrne said Thursday that the company was preparing to present the project to the Cortlandville Planning Board and the next step was to get project approvals.
The project is estimated to create 300 jobs at the site and construction is expected to begin in June or July, with three years elapsing between each construction phase.
For every dairy job created, another five to seven jobs are created in the surrounding community, Mike McMahon, chairman of the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency, said when the project was announced.
The dairy industry’s ability to create jobs in a community was not lost on the forum’s speakers.
The limiting factor for industry growth is going to be the amount of milk dairy farmers can produce, Byrne said. He also noted that New York dairy farmers face more economic challenges than farmers out West.
“Our pay price in New York (for milk) is lower than Wisconsin,” Byrne said, while feed costs in New York are higher.
Relying on immigrant labor can pose a production risk for dairies as federal immigration laws may remove some of those laborers, said Josh Woodard, a professor of applied economics and management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.
The lapse of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program, known as MILC, with the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill on Sept. 31, is another issue, Woodard said. The program paid dairy producers when the margin between milk prices and feed prices gets smaller than a certain level, he said.
In order to meet the increased milk demand, big and small dairy farms will pop up across the state, Byrne said. Increasing the output of milk per cow is another option, he said.
New York currently leads the country in cow output increases, said Mike Van Amburgh, a professor of animal science at Cornell and a dairy herd capacity and development expert.
If 100,000 more cows could be added to herds across the state, Van Amburgh estimated that increases in output could make up for the remaining deficit of 100,000 cows needed to meet the increased demand for milk to make yogurt.
Ways to increase cow output include focusing on cow comfort, including bedding, and utilizing genetic breeding, Aubertine said.
Milk quality does not suffer with increased output, Van Amburgh said. Healthier cows produce more and better milk, increasing profitability.
In addition to more milk, the industry will need a larger, educated work force.
Quality milk and dairy products are made by quality employees, said Jim Murphy, vice president of quality and research and development at Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc.
An ideal candidate would be someone with a technology background who has taken a retraining program in food and beverage, such as one of the certificate programs offered by Cornell and community colleges. Cornell also offers agriculture degree programs.
“We’d snap them up in a minute,” Murphy said.
After the forum, participants took a tour through a new dairy plant under construction on Cornell’s campus that would be used for student classes and industry employee training. The plant is part of a $105 million renovation of Stocking Hall.
The 12,000-square-foot facility includes a product development lab where companies large and small can try out new products, including new yogurts, and a permitted dairy plant where companies can do smaller runs of products for quality testing.
The plant will also be used to train state quality inspectors.
The plant is expected to be in operation by March or May of next year, said Jason Huck, the general manager of the dairy processing plant.
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