New Castle News

September 11, 2013

Cheese plant upgrade plans proceeding

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Plans announced two years ago to upgrade the cheese plant in Wilmington Township soon will be coming to fruition.

 The Lawrence County Planning Commission yesterday finalized its review of a land development plan for Dairy Farmers of America Inc., which calls for construction of a 34,167-square-foot addition to its cheese plant at the corner of Routes 18 and 208.

The site lies on 19.5 acres of land, where multiple smaller pieces of property were merged into one larger lot. A new access road and additional parking also are planned.

Plans are to rezone a portion of the property from agricultural to industrial use, reported county planner Jason Shallcross.

Dairy Farmers was represented by two employees and three representatives of RFW Construction Group LLC of Dyersburg, Tenn., its consulting team.

Tim Sallmen, Dairy Farmers plant manager, said the proposed addition is part of a plan announced in 2011 to invest $30 million to modernize the plant and keep it — and 230 existing jobs — in Lawrence County.

Sallmen said he does not know yet if additional jobs will be created.

“We’re glad you’re here,” Commissioner Dan Vogler told the company representatives yesterday.

Dairy Farmers of America is a co-op owned by about 18,000 participating farmers. When the plans were announced in 2011, the company had said it would phase in improvements over several years.

The improvements call for modernizing the building and updating technology to make it more efficient, Sallmen said. The plans do not call for adding any different types of cheese processing.

The plant has existed in Wilmington Township for more than 50 years, manufacturing mozzarella and provolone cheeses and distributing its by product of which is used in many commercial sold and packaged foods.

 The plant receives more than 1 billion pounds of milk from dairies from throughout the country and processes more than 120 million pounds of cheese per year. It also annually distributes 65 million pounds of whey powder throughout the world.

The New Wilmington cheese plant was started in 1955 by the late Jacobo Marti, who sold it to the Milk Marketing Inc. co-op in 1986. Milk Marketing and a few other companies eventually merged into Dairy Farmers of America, now one of the largest milk co-ops in the United States.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)