Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Manufacturing

State ag industry looks to attract new yogurt plant

March 13, 2013
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It's 'survival mode' for many state dairy farmers
Michigan is the nation's eight-largest producer of milk, with more than 2,000 dairy farms generating a $14.7 billion economic impact on the state.

LANSING — The state might get a yogurt plant that exclusively uses milk, fruit and sugar grown or produced in Michigan, but government officials and commodity groups are secretive about details.

With its dairy industry and a wide variety of fruits and sugar produced in the state, Michigan has become one of the best choices for yogurt companies to expand their businesses in, advocates say.

According to Heather Throne of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, with more than 2,000 dairy farms, Michigan is the eighth-largest milk producer in the nation, and the industry provides a $14.7 billion economic impact to the state.

Throne said Michigan has the edge for new and expanded milk processing because of its plentiful supply of high-quality milk and other ingredients, including sugar and fruits. It also has easy access to consumer markets.

Susan Esser, deputy of the department’s food and dairy division, said there has been a major yogurt processing plant for more than 30 years in Reed City. Yoplait, one of the largest yogurt processors in the nation, is owned by General Mills and opened in the 1970s.

“More than 54 percent of the state’s dairy sector’s value is in the processing segment, which includes yogurt, cheese and ice cream,” she said. “Michigan has the potential to be seen by the yogurt companies as a place to expand their businesses, and it will benefit our economy.”

Wayne Wood, the president of Michigan Farm Bureau, said, “There has been a joint effort by the dairy, sugar and fruit industries to get yogurt manufacturers that will use all Michigan products.”

Bob Boehm, manager of the Farm Bureau’s commodity and marketing department, said that would attract more yogurt processors into the state. “There are growing demands for dairy products and we see a lot of room for growth.”

However, state officials and representatives of commodity groups are secretive about the project, saying it’s not decided. But they do say a new plant would boost the state’s dairy, sugar beet and fruit sectors.

Maerenn Jepsen, the public relations manager of General Mills based in Minneapolis, said she isn’t aware of such an initiative and not in a position to comment.

Jerry Coleman, the president of marketing for Michigan Sugar Co. based in Bay City, said, “Our strong agricultural background could help attract more yogurt participants into the state. Then we can sell more sugar, and the government receives more taxes.”

And the Farm Bureau’s Boehm said, “There are great opportunities and it will also bring jobs to our state.”

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