South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (left) poses with Lake Norden Mayor Jason Aho following a groundbreaking ceremony held at the Agropur cheese plant. 
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (left) poses with Lake Norden Mayor Jason Aho following a groundbreaking ceremony held at the Agropur cheese plant. PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
    LAKE NORDEN, S.D. – Agropur held a groundbreaking ceremony on Feb. 27 for a $250 million expansion of its cheese plant in Lake Norden, S.D. The expansion project, with expected completion in early 2019, will triple the plant’s processing capacity from 3 million pounds of milk per day to 9 million pounds of milk per day.
    This increase will demand milk from approximately 85,000 additional dairy cows in order to supply the plant’s needs.    
    “Agropur is committed to continuing its development in the North American market. This announcement is very good news for the growing dairy industry and dairy farmers in the region,” said René Moreau, president of Agropur.
    Agropur Inc. is a subsidiary of Agropur Cooperative, which was founded in 1938. Agropur’s headquarters are located in Saint-Hubert, Québec, Canada.
    Davisco Foods International constructed a mozzarella cheese plant in Lake Norden in 2003. Agropur purchased the facilities from Davisco in 2014.          
    “The Lake Norden project is an important part of our long-term business strategy, which targets continued expansion through acquisitions as well as organic growth. We are eager to get to work on this new and important project,” said Robert Coallier, CEO of Agropur.
    Work on the expansion began several months ago. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on a stage that had been erected in a large, newly-constructed concrete room that still had a dirt floor. Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota governor, addressed the gathering of dairy industry leaders, farmers and interested local citizens.
    “Agropur has built a truly remarkable relationship with the Lake Norden community,” Daugaard said. “The company’s decision to reinvest in South Dakota – a decision that will have an estimated $1 billion annual economic impact in our state – is a prime example of how our dairy industry supports economic development from farmer to small town to processor and beyond. If you want an example of the right way to build a multi-million-dollar cheese plant, look no further than the partnership created among Agropur, the State of South Dakota and Lake Norden.”
    Tim Czmowski, midwest regional operations vice president for Agropur, agreed.
    “This is a great day for Lake Norden, for South Dakota and for the dairy industry,” Czmowski said. “We are here because of the customers from all over the world who enjoy the cheese and whey products that are made at this plant.”
    As the 20th largest milk processor in the world, Agropur markets its products to 35 countries. The Lake Norden plant currently produces mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and parmesan cheese. Some of this cheese finds its way to customers that include the Papa Murphy’s take and bake pizza chain.  
    An additional 125 workers will need to be hired after the expansion is completed. They will join the current workforce that numbers 225.
    “This is really a blessing for our town,” said Lake Norden mayor Jason Aho. “Agropur could have chosen to build anyplace, but they chose us. It’s an honor to have Agropur continue to invest in Lake Norden.”
    Lake Norden, which has a population of 470, has already seen benefits of the expansion. A private individual recently constructed an 8-plex apartment structure for Agropur workers and is looking at building more. The town is so intertwined with the cheese processing industry that the slogan, “Cheese is our Whey!” has been emblazoned prominently across its water tower.
    “We have a very talented workforce,” said Doug Simon, Agropur president of U.S. operations. “We are always striving to produce high quality products that will be sold around the world and our employees are key to that process.
    This expansion will make the Lake Norden facility the largest of the 39 processing plants that Agropur operates, Simon said.
    “This growth is being driven by the increasing milk supply in the region and by increasing product sales. The Lake Norden expansion will be an incredible improvement and a key tool for Agropur’s future,” Simon said.
    Last April, Agropur received the Breakthrough Award for Dairy Ingredient Innovation for its development of highly pure glycomacropeptide (GMP), a protein derived from whey. The award was presented in Chicago at the American Dairy Products Institute’s annual meeting.
    “Dairy is the No. 1 driver of economic activity in South Dakota’s ag sector,” Daugaard said. “All of the things that a dairy needs – the forages, the grain, the water, the space to grow – are here. As governor, I have been working to recruit dairy farmers from other states and countries to relocate to South Dakota and have been encouraging our current dairy farmers to expand.”
    Recalling his boyhood on a dairy farm located at Dell Rapids, Daugaard said, “When I was a kid, it was a daily ritual to go down to the barn to help Dad milk our cows. Back then, in the 1960s, the state had about 200,000 dairy cows. This number dropped steadily until it was at about 80,000 10 years ago. There are currently about 110,000 dairy cows in South Dakota, and the I-29 Corridor is the fastest growing dairy region in the United States. Our goal is to bring us back to the days when dairy was king.”
    Daugaard feels the state can reach that goal with the help of this plant’s expansion.
    “This is a very big deal for South Dakota,” Daugaard said. “Agropur could have chosen to build their expansion any place, but they chose Lake Norden. And we couldn’t be any more pleased.”