AUBURN | Community members and business buffs from around Cayuga County got an update Wednesday on the dairy processing plant that's taking shape in Aurelius and the benefits it can offer the area economy.
The Wednesday Morning Roundtable featured Dale Mattoon, a local dairy owner who sits as a board member and is treasurer of Cayuga Marketing LLC and the related Cayuga Milk Ingredients, which is building the milk processing plant at the Cayuga County Industrial Development Authority's Business Park in Aurelius.
Mattoon explained how the farmer-owned Cayuga Marketing came into existence more than 20 years and also told the audience about the reasons for pursuing the $86.5 million milk plant project.
Mattoon, as the owner of Pine Hollow Dairy (750 cows) in Genoa, has a deep understanding of the challenges dairy farmers in Cayuga County face and helped create Cayuga Marketing, which has 29 member farms and operates as a cooperative buying agent for supplies and a collective bargaining agent for selling raw milk the farms produce.
He said Cayuga Marketing members are trying to solve the problem of expensive milk transportation. With 43 processing destinations in the Northeast for Cayuga milk, the milk seems to be going everywhere but here, Mattoon said.
"The shortest haul out of this county for Cayuga milk is 125 miles round trip," he said. "Everybody knows transportation is expensive and it's a huge problem. ... That's a big driver behind this milk plant deal."
The cost of fuel plays a large part, too.
"Fuel has really increased," Mattoon said. "It has really made the cost to transport unbearable."
Mattoon described the thought process that he and other local dairy farmers went through as they struggled with a changing industry.
"We were frustrated with all this," he said.
To solve the problem of a locally produced resource being expensively shipped elsewhere, they decided to build a milk processing plant here. Construction on the project started in October and a completion date is expected sometime near June 2014.
The plant will produce products that won't be evident on store shelves, but will be within many of the products people buy every day, Mattoon said. Items such as liquid cream and skim condensed, milk protein concentrates and milk protein isolates, infant quality skim milk powder, whole milk powder and powder blends are some of the products the plant will be able to make.
Opportunities to export products to international markets will be there, along with local control over how products are made, which can ensure quality and traceability, Mattoon added.
Local benefits are also predicted, including 52 full-time permanent jobs, 285 temporary construction jobs, purchases from local farmer and vendors and a $260 million regional economic impact, Mattoon said.
"By January of 2015, this plant will really be rocking," he said.
Some audience members brought up suggestions and concerns. Resident Tim Donovan asked if extending a rail line to the plant would be practical, and Kim Pearson, owner of Nash's Framing & Art, asked if the plant would help keep dairy farms here sustainable.
Mattoon thought rail could be one way to transport products to ports, and he told Pearson that dairy farms will now have an outlet for their milk that didn't exist before, which should help them stay profitable.
Mary Anne Giacona, who owns The Center, where the roundtable took place, had questions about whether the plant would make products using milk without the hormones some farms give to dairy cows.
Mattoon said with local control of what products the plant will make, if the market demands hormone-free milk products, they can produce them.
"It you're willing to pay for it, we're willing to produce it," he said.