NEW YORK—Greek yogurt, with its tangy taste and high protein content, is providing a boost to dairy farmers upstate as they expand to meet demand.
There are 29 yogurt-producing plants in the state, which produced 553 million pounds of yogurt in 2011—more than double the 234 million pounds produced in 2005, according to the state Labor Department. The growth has stemmed from Greek yogurt, which takes three to four times more milk than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt sales now account for 28 percent of the $4 billion United States yogurt market.
The largest Greek yogurt producer, Chobani, opened a plant in New York in 2007. The New Berlin facility now employs 1,000 people, and buys 25 million gallons of milk a year from New York farmers. Besides expanding its upstate plant, Chobani recently opened a store in New York City to sell its yogurt and yogurt products.
The second largest Greek yogurt producer, Fage USA, is also based in New York. It opened its first U.S. plant in Johnstown in 2008, and now employs 240 New Yorkers there. They are planning on doubling the plan’s capacity to about 160,000 tons a year, according to the state’s Labor Department.
Two more large plants will open in New York, one owned by Colombia-based Alpina in several weeks, and another by Muller Quaker Dairy next summer.
Dannon, one of the first yogurt companies entering into the U.S. market, was founded by a French immigrant here in the 1940s. Later the vast network of local milk producers attracted other companies.
“Upstate New York’s reliable milk supply, combined with the region’s strong and talented workforce, will help Alpina Foods thrive in New York for years to come,” said Julian Jaramillo, CEO of Alpina, in an email. The 610,000 dairy cows in the state produced more than 12.8 billion pounds of milk last year, fourth in the nation.
John Noble of Noblehurst Farms said in a phone interview that the new companies moving into New York has “created a real excitement about the industry.” Noble’s sixth-generation farm has 1,700 cows.
Noble was also positive about the first yogurt summit held Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“This is really encouraging that the state is taking an active role in bringing people together,” Noble said. “Anything the state can do to enhance farming and dairy farming in particular, is positive for all the public in the state.”
Cuomo said the yogurt industry in New York is “a true success story,” according to a release. “We want the yogurt business to do well, and continue to thrive in New York,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo proposed removing an obstacle for dairy farms wanting to expand. The proposal would shift the 200-cow cap for small farms to 300 cows. A small farm could have up to 300 cows without having to comply with “burdensome requirements” that the regulatory Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation designation brings.
There are more than 800 dairy farms with 100 to 199 cows that could benefit from the potential change, according to Cuomo.Kerry Adams, owner of Black Brook Farms in Shortsville, said she had wanted to expand from 199 cows but would have had to pay $2,400 per cow to fund more than $400,000 in structural upgrades, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. “It’s very hard on a small farm to meet those regulations,” she told the newspaper.
A coalition of environmental groups disagree, however. The proposed change would “weaken state environmental protections put in place to protect public health, safety, and the environment,” stated the group, which includes Environmental Advocates of New York and Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, in a release.
“As a result, these farms will be allowed to grow from 200 to 299 cows without requiring the installation of structural controls such as waste storage facilities and water diversions,” the group stated.
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