Area dairies are saving on transportation costs thanks to the Dairy Farmers of America Meadowlark dairy plant in Garden City.

Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., said she has received good feedback from dairy producers outside the region who are now looking to southwest Kansas for expansion.

“There’s no doubt that having processing this close has definitely improved our opportunities for the recruitment of dairies, which is tremendous not only for Finney County but certainly for our outlying dairies, as well,” she said, adding that dairies bring employment opportunities to the region and all the benefits that come with them.

“When you get a dairy, you’re going to help your schools. You’re going to help your health care,” she said. “Everybody is going to have a new customer base, if you will, that didn’t exist before the dairy came. We’re seeing some very positive things happen as far as growth of that industry, and that’s really what we had hoped we’d be able to accomplish.”

After ground was broken in October 2015, the first load of milk was delivered in late September to the facility that has brought more than 60 new jobs to the Garden City area in its capacity as a producer of whole, skim and nonfat dairy milk powder, as well as cream.

Approximately 4 million pounds of milk are shipped to the plant each day from around 12 member farms in southwest Kansas. It is the largest powder milk facility in the world.

Construction on the $235 million plant began in late 2015, resulting in a 321,000-square-foot facility set to process 83 truckloads of raw milk a day and convert it into about 85,000 tons of powdered milk annually that would fill 102 intermodal containers each week.

The impact of the plant has also drawn other businesses dedicated to its operations.

Trucking company Mies and Sons was contracted to serve the DFA plant and employs about 75 people, according to Jerry Mies, the company’s owner. Mies and Sons competed for and won the contract with DFA and relocated its corporate office and operations to Garden City.

The company is now headquartered in Garden City and Colwich. Mies said the company completed construction of its new local facility about 45 days ago and now serves 18 dairies in the region, from Jetmore to Tribune to Elkhart.

As part of the development agreement between Meadowlark Dairy and the City of Garden City, the city paid a lump sum payment of $2.5 million to buy treated effluent wastewater generated by the plant in its first 20 years of operation, which will offset treated municipal water being used for irrigating city parks and other non-potable uses.

Some of the water will be used to irrigate crops near the plant, and DFA hopes to donate some alfalfa hay to Lee Richardson Zoo for animal feed.

“They’ve done a good job of kind of getting the plant up and running and kind of getting the bugs worked out, getting settled in with their employee base and that kind of thing,” DuVall said. “I think they’re going to continue to be a tremendous corporate partner for our community for years to come.”

 

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.