Milk processing facility draws local interest
By Patrick Redmond | KPC News - The News Sun
A group of local farmers, businesspeople and agriculture professionals are floating the idea of locating a new cow and goat milk procession plant somewhere in northeast Indiana.
Steve Engleking, LaGrange County Purdue Extension educator, is one of three people facilitating the discussions. Engleking said the group’s next meeting is planned for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31, at the Community Building at the LaGrange County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Engleking said at this point, the milk plant is no more than an idea.
“We’re basically having a conversation about a milk processing facility,” he said.
LaGrange County has more small farms than any other county in Indiana, and goats are becoming more important — and potentially more profitable — to those farmers.
“LaGrange County has a lot of small farms,” Engleking said. “When it comes to milk worldwide, more goat milk is consumed than cows’ milk by people. Goats are very, very well adapted to small-acreage agriculture.”
Presently, goat milk has to be shipped to either southern Indiana or Michigan to be processed, which reduces the milk’s quality. Engleking said a local plant might solve that problem.
He said producers have been coming to LaGrange County for years to find farmers willing to raise milk goats. A few years ago, one organization persuaded several local farmers to start goat milking operations. It purchased the milk for a few months but then folded.
Despite the setback, Engleking said many people still believe a local plant that handles fresh goat milk could be viable.
“There is a real intense interest in the Amish community, as well as the English community, to milk goats,” he said. “We’re looking at an opportunity, especially when we look geographically where we’re located. We’re within three hours of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis, the big metro areas. We’re in an area where goats’ milk for food consumption can really take off.”
In addition, Engleking said, many area farmers would like to see such a plant have a second line to process cow milk.
“We’ve also got 570-some dairy farms in the county, according to the 2012 census of agriculture, and there’s a small group of cow milk dairies, conventional cow milk dairies, that have been looking at the possibility of their own fluid milk processing plant to maybe capture a niche market,” he said.
That niche market is in Shipshewana’s tourism industry. Many farmers have expressed an interest in creating a line of high-quality, locally produced milk that would be processed in smaller batches and sold in glass bottles.
“There’s an opportunity for a niche-style of dairy, especially when you look at Shipshewana on a Saturday. It’s packed,” Engleking said. “There could be an opportunity there for a differentiated milk product — not the commodity milk we find in Walmarts and the Meijers and the Krogers, but a differentiated product.”
Engleking said his research has shown many consumers are looking for dairy products beyond what one finds in a grocery store.
“There are some consumers who would really love to get their hands on creamline cows milk, nonhomogenized milks, milks that are pasteurized but not homogenized, where if the milk sets, the cream rises to the top,” he said.
He has been working with other ag educators to continue to the discussions. Elysia Rodgers, the Purdue Extension educator for DeKalb County, and Robert Kelly, Purdue Extension educator for Elkhart County, have joined with Engleking in hosting the meetings.
“We’re facilitating the discussions just to see where they go,” he said.
Engleking said if the processing plant is built, it will happen because area farmers and consumers want it, not because Extension educators pushed it.
“If it takes off and goes, it’s because champions have risen up within our communities, not Extension, because people have a vested interest in moving this project forward,” he said.