HOLDREGE – A coalition has formed to encourage growth in the dairy industry in Nebraska, and Phelps County is among the communities rolling out their welcome mats.
A dairy processing plant that produces butter, cheese, milk or ice cream would boost the local economy by providing an initial multi-million dollar investment, new jobs and diversified markets for area farmers.
Phelps County Development Corporation Executive Director Ron Tillery will travel to Madison, Wis., to the World Dairy Expo in early October as part of Grow Nebraska Dairy initiative. The group includes representatives of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Public Power District, the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska State Dairy Association, and the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN).
Their goal is to tout Nebraska, and Phelps County, as ideal locations for dairy farms and dairy manufacturing plants.
Phelps County is listed among the 12 Nebraska communities that are hoping to recruit the dairy industry and will be among five communities featured in a Power Point presentation at the expo. The presentation will feature details on the county’s 134-acre Iron Horse Industrial Park.
“Grow Nebraska Dairy made the decision early on to identify communities that were willing to put out the welcome mat,” said Rod Johnson, former Phelps County resident and executive director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association. “We distributed a request for information to a couple dozen communities to determine their capacity in terms of infrastructure, utilities, labor and wastewater treatment. We’ve winnowed that list down to a handful that meet the criteria, are enthusiastic and could ramp up quickly when a dairy processor comes to town.”
A 2016 Targeted Industry Study revealed that Phelps County should focus its recruitment efforts on seven key industries. Crop and animal production and related manufacturing, including food processing, rose to the top of the list.
Tillery said a dairy processing plant would likely be a $25-$30 million project and would employ more than 60 people.
The successful recruitment of a dairy processing plant may lure dairy farms to locate in the county or may provide an opportunity for current residents to start dairy farms. The dairy farms would open up new markets for area farmers as the dairy farms would need to purchase crops to feed their dairy cows.
“Dairies represent a diversification of resources for local farmers who produce corn and other feed,” Tillery said. “At each stage, we would be providing value to the product instead of just accepting a certain commodity price.”
Tillery said dairy processing plants are clean manufacturing facilities that would be similar to BD on the outside. Currently, there are only five dairy processing facilities in Nebraska, and all of them are on the eastern side of the state, including Hiland Dairy Foods in Norfolk and Omaha.