Cheese plant may benefit area dairies

Mike Linn

Talk of a cheese plant in the area took a step closer to becoming a reality on Wednesday when dairy officials announced that advanced negotiations have started to build a $170 million cheese plant in the eastern New Mexico/West Texas region.
The plant will be complete by the latter part of 2005, will staff roughly 200 employees and promote new milk contracts with area dairies, according to a press release from Dairy Farmers of America.
“The bottom line will be that milk that is produced here would also be processed here, and that’s good” said Kim Huffman, the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce director.
Current negotiations are with dairy farmer members of the Greater Southwest Agency and Glanbia, an Ireland-based cheese and whey processing company.
Wayne Palla, the DFA chairman of the southwest area council, said the new plant will provide a much needed point of sales for area dairy farmers.
“It gives another outlet for our milk,” Palla said. “Right now we are having problems certain times a year having enough capacity within our area to handle all the milk. We’ve had milk go as far as California looking for a home. This will also keep extended shipping mileage at a minimum.”
Palla noted that almost every dairy in Curry and Roosevelt counties are members of the GSA.
Local economic development officials and DFA personnel, however, did not know where the plant would be built.
“I guess they are going to try to make that decision pretty quick,” said Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation.
Moreover, there is no specific time table for a location selection.
“The (decision) keeps getting pushed back,” Gentry said. “Any time you’re doing such a complex venture there’s so many things you have to look at. They were supposed to make a decision in April, May, June and it just keeps moving down, but I think we’re getting close.”
Gentry noted the city officials have been in negotiations since 2002 about the possibility of the plant being based in Clovis.
The plant annually will process over 2.27 billion pounds of milk, over 250 million pounds of cheese and 16.5 million pounds of quality whey proteins, the DFA press release states.
“This plant is a positive thing for dairy farmers in the area, because it is an outlet for their milk,” said Patsy Grieb, the DFA public relations project director. “And the (eastern New Mexico/West Texas) area is growing a lot and there is a lot of milk in that area. Everybody is looking at this as a very positive venture.”
Once fully operational, the new facility is expected to generate an estimated $340 million in annual sales, the release states.