DFA Milk Plant celebrates grand opening

By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communication

Rick Smith, President and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America, was impressed with the nearly 200 people who came out Thursday afternoon to help the company celebrate the grand opening of DFA’s Garden City milk processing plant.

“This facility, this whole project, represents a direct partnership between DFA and, at least 12 at the moment, dairy farms who are directly investing and direct owners of this facility,” Smith said. “It’s going to be known for sustainability and traceability.”

Work began in late 2015 on the $235 million plant, a 270,000-square-foot plant that will process 84 truckloads of raw milk — about 4 million pounds — per day from dairy farms in southwest Kansas, turning the milk into about 550,000 pounds of whole milk powder that will be transported to the rest of the country and the world.

Grand opening celebrated

On Thursday, following a final 36 hour test run, the plant officially opened on South U.S. Highway 83 in Garden City. A large number of farmers, local and state officials, legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback attended the grand opening.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks Thursday during the grand opening celebration of the DFA milk processing plant in Garden City.

Calling the grand opening a historic day for the state, Brownback recalled another historic day 40 years ago when the first beef packing plant opened in Holcomb which helped, he said, transform the entire region and the beef industry for a global market. Brownback believes the DFA plant will have a similar impact for the state’s dairy industry.

“This is a big day. This is going to continue to move forward the dairy industry here,” he said. “It’s going to have a big impact on the region and the area.”

Brownback said the state is “extremely delighted” that DFA is here in Kansas, and expressed enthusiasm for the state’s role in a prosperous animal agriculture industry.

“We can be the livestock belt for the United States and the world and do so sustainably with our water with our soil and with our air. The technology is here to do that, the farm capacity is here and the people in this room are the ones that are doing it and will do it. We can make this place continue to blossom,” he said.

A boon for the state

Brownback, who has been nominated to become ambassador at large for international religious freedom and may leave the Governor’s office soon, thanked Garden City, Finney County and western Kansas for helping him grow. He noted that he first started coming to the area in 1974 “with a big Afro” and didn’t laughed out of the place so he kept coming back over the years.

“You guys make things happen. I’ve taken that ‘can do’ attitude, because we don’t have to depend on a lot of other people to get things done. We can do it ourselves. You get it done out of good character and good honest work,” he said.

A sample bag of milk powder is displayed on a table inside a tent set up for the grand opening celebration of the DFA milk plant in Garden City.

Alan McEntee, DFA project manager who oversaw the plant’s construction the past two years, said he and his wife have enjoyed the vibrant and diversified community in Garden City. He said the plant completed a successful 36-hour run at 3 a.m. Thursday morning to be ready for the grand opening.

“It has been a challenge to get a plant like this up and running … and last night was one of our better milestones,” McEntee said.

Dan Senestraro, DFA Member Investor and farmer from Johnson City and Southwest Area Council Chairman, said the plant is a unique partnership between DFA and a group of farmer-members that allows dairy farmers and producers to directly invest in a state-of-the-art processing facility.

“I’m honored that my cooperative and fellow dairy producers can be involved in a world-class facility of this nature. We are here to celebrate that today,” Senestraro said.

Garden City Mayor Melvin Dale called the grand opening a great day for the community and the area.

“Both the city and DFA are committed to quality and innovation, and I think the shared values are representative in the state-of-the-art facility we have today,” Dale said.

Randy Mooney, Chairman of the DFA Board of Directors, addresses the crowd during Thursday’s grand opening.

Randy Mooney, Chairman of the DFA Board of Directors, said Thursday’s grand opening was a proud day for the company, and pointed out that milk from the area — which he called the best quality from the best farmers — will go everywhere and nourish the world.

“When you think about the commitment, when you think about producing the most nutritious product known to man, which is milk, putting it through a state-of-the-art plant like this one and nourishing the world … there’s just something really good about that.

“It makes me feel good, right in the heart,” Mooney said.

Mooney expressed appreciation for area dairy farmers, local and state officials and everyone involved in making it happen and pledged that the plant will “make a difference” in the world.

Sustainability and traceability

Smith agreed, pointing out the benefit of knowing exactly where the milk is being produced.

“To know every cow, every farm where the milk comes from, even what feed the cows eat, … that traceability story is spot-on in terms of the way the world is now,” Smith said. “We can’t do that in hardly any other place because of the variations in production and the different delivery points. Here, we have a dedicated supply, a cohesive, compact group of dairy farmers who are going to be able to tell a story that can’t be told anywhere else. There will be some copycats as we go forward, and that’s great, because that’s the nicest form of flattery.”

Smith also pointed out that the water byproduct from turning milk into powder which will net the city of Garden City millions of gallons of water each year, means the plant will be water neutral which “makes us all feel good, too.”

The water that’s removed, some 3.5 million pounds of it, is going to be treated on site by DFA using a reverse osmosis process. Some of it will be used when cleaning the plant. The rest will be discharged to a local water lagoon, where the city will take charge of it and put it to other use.

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

But Smith is really excited about the world-wide implications of the DFA plant’s product.

“We’re going to be part of feeding the world from here,” he said.

Over the weekend, Smith explained, he will be attended a meeting in Denmark where an assortment of the largest dairy cooperatives in the world will discuss goals for a dairy sustainability framework that seeks to address world malnutrition. He said a portion of the milk powder made in Garden City will be DFA’s contribution toward that effort to end world hunger.

“I can’t wait to get going. I’m really happy for the community. This will be here for the next couple of generations and that’s pretty cool,” Smith said.