Wayne looks to expand dairy industry

Processing plant considered feasible

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 8/4/20

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Queso fresco. Cotija. Oaxaca. 

Hispanic cheeses like these could be a saving grace for struggling dairy farmers in Wayne County, according a recent study by Shepstone …

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Wayne looks to expand dairy industry

Processing plant considered feasible

Posted

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Queso fresco. Cotija. Oaxaca. 

Hispanic cheeses like these could be a saving grace for struggling dairy farmers in Wayne County, according a recent study by Shepstone Management Company in Honesdale.

Last year, Wayne County received a $35,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a feasibility study, evaluating the risks and opportunities involved in bringing a dairy processing plant to the area. At the time, farmer and chairman of the Wayne County Commissioners, Brian Smith, said that a plant here could “save our dairy industry.”

It was, and continues to be, a small piece of optimism amid a steady flow of hardships for local farmers. Wayne County’s own dairy industry has shrunk significantly over the years from 1,500 to fewer than 50. Low milk prices have long made it nearly impossible to turn a profit, and unpredictable weather—which climate scientists connect to climate change—further slims down their margins. Even more recently, the ongoing global pandemic has been crushing for milk-producers throughout the country. In April, producers and deliverers of milk had to dump tons of their product because, with schools and restaurants closed indefinitely, the milk had nowhere to go.

According to the recent study, bringing a processing facility to Wayne County could help local farmers get their products to the New York City metropolitan area, as well as counties in Connecticut, northern New Jersey and upstate New York. And within those states, the study suggests that “specialty cheeses” might be the most profitable market to tap into.

“The combined total market is expected to grow by $915 million over the next five years... 31 percent or $170 million of that growth being accounted for by cheese alone,” the study reads.

It also emphasizes that focusing on soft Hispanic cheeses “clearly offers the best approach for reaching into the New York City metro area.” And it additionally identifies Parmigiano-Reggiano and feta as “the best specialty cheese opportunities for a dairy processor.”

The study is somewhat informed by wine production in the Finger Lakes region in New York State, suggesting that understanding the success of on-site wineries there could provide the template for on-site dairy operations here.

“[Grape producers] established farm wineries out of necessity to survive during a period of low grape prices and thereby birthed a new agricultural sector. They had a strong economic incentive to change the way they marketed their product.”

The potential processing plant is envisioned to be a public-private partnership, and according to a 10-year forecast, it presents risks but would ultimately be financially feasible.

The Wayne County Commissioners have accepted this study but, as Smith noted, that doesn’t mean the processing plant is a sure bet. Stakeholders will soon begin a second phase of study.

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