Prairie Farms Dairy, a farmer-owned cooperative, last Friday announced plans to expand its operations in Fort Wayne, investing $8.7 million to add specialty products to its portfolio and increasing opportunities for the Hoosier dairy industry.
Prairie Farms, which is headquartered in Carlinville, Ill., will construct and equip a 22,500-square-foot addition to its existing production facility at 3400 Lima Rd., which currently produces fluid milk, ice cream mix, specialty drinks, cottage cheese, sour cream and dips. The company will add new processing tanks and systems, production equipment, packaging lines, a cooler and a dry storage warehouse in order to accelerate growth through production of value-added products for retail and food service customers, and to grow their business as an ingredient supplier to other manufacturing companies.
"Prairie Farms has been a part of the Fort Wayne community for 23 years, and we are looking forward to many more," said Chuck McQuaig, Fort Wayne general manager for Prairie Farms. "We currently employ 117 people, and through this expansion, we are pleased to offer more local jobs. Along with the expansion comes a bigger distribution footprint for us. Once complete, we will ship more Prairie Farms products from coast to coast, and to Central America."
Construction of the expansion is expected to begin in April and be complete within 18 months. As part of its growth, Prairie Farms plans to create eight new jobs in Indiana by 2020.
"Fort Wayne is a business-friendly town that encourages expansion, not only for Prairie Farms, but all local companies," said McQuaig. "We appreciate Mayor Henry's willingness to work with us and are thankful for the support of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Fort Wayne's City Council members, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Metro Chamber Alliance and Northeast Indiana Works."
Last Friday's news marks another milestone for Indiana's dairy strategy, commissioned by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, to grow the state's industry by increasing the volume of dairy processing and creating market opportunities for expanded dairy production. With more than 1,100 Hoosier dairies, Indiana produced more than 4 billion pounds of milk last year, but approximately 4 million pounds of raw milk are exported each day—which was one growth opportunity identified by the strategy.
Increased opportunities to keep more Hoosier-grown milk in Indiana, such as the growth of Prairie Farms' production. will help local farmers save on transportation and related costs.
"One of our top goals when we launched the dairy strategy was to add value to Indiana's dairy products by increasing our state's processing capacity," said Ted Mckinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. "By expanding their operation, Prairie Farms' announcement confirms our strategy is working and continues to pay off in Indiana. I applaud their decision and look forward to the growth opportunities this will create for Indiana's dairy farmers."
Established in 1938, Prairie Farms produces a variety dairy products, including milk, cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream and cottage cheese, as well as other branded products such as, iced coffee, juice and tea. The Prairie Farms brand is distributed throughout the Midwest and South and is available in more than 30 percent of the U.S. at grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, schools, food service outlets and warehouse distribution centers.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Prairie Farms Dairy up to $50,000 in performance-based conditional tax credits and up to $15,500 in training grants based on the company's investment and growth plans. The city of Fort Wayne will consider additional incentives at the request of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
Indiana is home to 25 dairy processing plants and 12 farmstead operations, helping the Hoosier state rank No. 14 in the nation in milk production and No. 2 in ice cream production. Indiana has roughly 185,000 milk cows, which can produce an average of 61 pounds of milk per day.