Bruce Brockshus, AMPI board member
Bruce Brockshus, AMPI board member
SANBORN, Iowa - AMPI, a farmer-owned dairy cooperative based in New Ulm, Minn., is expanding its Sanborn, Iowa, cheese and whey processing facility.
The 14,000-square foot expansion will more than double the plant's processing capacity, from 1.4 million pounds of milk per day to 3 million pounds of milk daily. This adds up to more than 1 billion pounds of milk annually.
Bruce Brockshus, a member of the AMPI board of directors, addressed a crowd that gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house that was held at the Sanborn plant on July 17. Brockshus and his family milk 550 cows on their farm located near Ocheyedan, Iowa.
"We saw the need for this expansion when it became evident that milk production was making a comeback in this area," Brockshus said. "We have the infrastructure, we have the people and we have dairy farmers who are dedicated to the industry. This area's milk production is growing and so is the demand for our products. The new expansion will increase the capacity and efficiency of the Sanborn plant."
Harold Peters, manager of AMPI's Sanborn division, said, "We already have enough milk production available in this district to meet the needs of this new expansion."
AMPI is owned by dairy farm families from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska. There are 128 AMPI members located within a 100-mile radius of the Sanborn facility. Altogether, the dairy operations in the Sanborn district are home to some 30,000 cows.
Steve Schlangen, dairyman from Albany, Minn., and chairman of the board of AMPI, also addressed the group.
"The timing was right for this expansion," Schlangen said. "We have had growing milk production in the Sanborn division, and we have customers who want more of our product."
The AMPI Sanborn plant currently produces only mild Cheddar cheese.
"After the expansion is completed, we plan to start making Colby Jack and Monterey Jack cheeses," Peters said.
Peters doesn't anticipate any new hires after the expansion is finished.
"We plan to stay at about 102 employees," he said. "A lot of the new equipment will be automated. We will be able to more than double our daily cheese production, but stay with the same number of employees."
There can be little doubt as to the quality of the cheese made at the Sanborn plant. In each of the past three years, the Sanborn plant's Mild Cheddar has been awarded first place at the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest.
"Needless to say, this high quality cheese begins with the high quality milk that is supplied by our dairy farmers," said Sheryl Meshke, CEO of AMPI. "Our dairy farmers are the reason this expansion is happening. The local community has been so welcoming throughout this process. There is one number that's critical to remember, and that is $25,000. That's the economic impact of every single dairy cow."
AMPI operates 10 processing plants scattered across the Midwest. The cooperative produces 10 percent of the nation's American-type cheese, butter, dried whey and sliced American cheese. In 2016, AMPI processed 5.5 billion pounds of milk, resulting in $1.6 billion in sales.
The AMPI Sanborn plant produces cheese in 700-pound blocks that are known as 640s. The finished blocks of cheese are shipped to AMPI's customers for further aging and for processing into packaged consumer products or for use in the food service industry. After the expansion is completed, the AMPI Sanborn plant will be capable of producing 300,000 pounds of block cheese every day.
"This was the smallest plant in our co-op system, so it's nice to see this expansion," Peters said. "That 3 million pound per day size is a good place to be."
It is expected that the multimillion-dollar Sanborn expansion will be coming online at the end of 2017 or in early 2018.
"We plan to begin testing the new equipment by mid-December and hope to have most of the bugs worked out by the end of the year," Peters said.
The new expansion at Sanborn consists of a cavernous concrete-walled room that has been grafted onto AMPI's existing cheese-making facility. The addition will house eight state-of-the-art cheese vats, along with other processing equipment.
O'Brien County Co-op Creamery first built a milk plant in Sanborn in 1937. The plant has been updated and expanded over the years, especially after AMPI became involved with the Sanborn facility in 1978.
"It has been a long process to convince the board that we needed to do this new expansion," Brockshus said. "We're glad that it finally came to fruition. This investment in the Sanborn plant sends a signal to our dairy farmer members that we are committed to the area's dairy industry."
Schlangen agreed.
"The crew at the Sanborn plant has proven that they know how to make award-winning cheese," Schlangen said. "It will be exciting to see what they can do with this new facility."