Dairy product manufacturing has become a Tier 1 industry for New York State’s upstate counties. It all began in centrally-located Fulton County, where international yogurt maker FAGE and nearby Chobani together have created more than 1650 jobs and helped to make New York the #1 yogurt manufacturing state in the country.
Among the big winners is the upstate dairy industry, which employs 3500 workers and contributes almost $600 million in gross domestic product, a 38% jump since 2000. Where downstate dairy production is used for largely milk production, most of the upstate milk produced is used for yogurt and cheese production in plants spreading from Fulton County, NY across the Mohawk Valley to the west.
Support for Dairy Product Growth
New construction and serious expansion of dozens of yogurt processing plants all across upstate New York have provided a windfall for a dairy industry that had been in decline in the last century. Northeast Dairy Foods Association estimates the increased amount of milk required at 4 billion pounds per year, an increase equal to 20 percent of New York’s current yearly milk production.
The upstate dairy industry is made up of hundreds of family-owned farms with herds of 200 to 300 cattle. While the region’s topology doesn’t support the mega-farms found in Western states, milk producers are nevertheless drawn to the region because of the dairy farmers’ proximity to major metropolitan centers, great transportation infrastructure, and fertile waterways.
Fulton County was the first to invest in creation of a major wastewater treatment plant to transform FAGE’s yogurt manufacturing byproduct, whey, into combustive fuel. FAGE is now expanding that 1.5 million gallon tank to support the doubling of its manufacturing capacity.
State grants of up to $2 million per installation are now available to individual farms or farm collaboratives to build their own anaerobic digesters, helping farmers transform dairy waste into usable fuel on their own farms. Some environmental regulations have been relaxed to permit farmers to enlarge their herds to 300 head. A new Dairy Acceleration Program provides grants and assistance to help farmers run their farms more profitably. And extensive research and training resources are available to the dairy industry through universities, state, and federal agencies.
Attracting More Food Processing Clusters
The end result is a major economic development win for the entire region. Joining market leaders Chobani and Fage have been followed by many smaller manufacturers, and this summer a joint venture of PepsiCo and Germany’s Theo Muller company began making yogurt products in Western New York.
Now the US Department of Agriculture is adding a new outlet for Greek yogurt sales with its recent solicitation for bids to supply Greek yogurt for school lunches across New York State this September.
While it began with the insatiable demand for Greek-style yogurt, other food industries have taken note and food-processing-clusters are sprouting up across the region. For a report on the growth of the Greek yogurt industry in the region, click here.