Industry Reports

Dairy Farmers Profit from DFA Cooperative

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — All products start somewhere. For some of the Dairy Farmers of America’s award-winning provolone and mozzarella cheeses, that somewhere is its plant at the corner of state Routes 18 and 208 on the outskirts of town.

It all starts with the milk that local producers provide. Dairy Famers of America is a national marketing cooperative that represents family farms and dairy-farm owners as it helps them to market the milk they produce. The DFA also offers financing and insurance options as well as price-risk management tools, along with farm services designed to improve efficiency and profitability on the farm. 

“We are committed to being a partner on the farm,” says Kim O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the association based in Kansas City, Kan.

The DFA owns 45 such processing plants across the country, including another just down the road in West Middlesex, Pa. The plant in New Wilmington can process around 2.5 million pounds of milk daily into nearly 400,000 pounds of cheese. That cheese is made into six-, 12- and 20-pound blocks of provolone and mozzarella varieties, O’Brien says.

Built in 1950 by the Jack Marti family, the plant started with the production of Swiss cheese. By 1996, the dairy industry had changed. As the demand from milk processors and grocers grew, leaders from the milk cooperatives in the nation came together and on Jan. 1, 1998, officially created the Dairy Farmers of America.

In 2015, the plant in New Wilmington underwent a $40 million modernization upgrade. It employs nearly 250 people and operates 24/7.

For local plant manager Timothy Sallmen, there is only one objective in his job. “The goal is to process the highest-quality product in the most efficient manner,” he says. Sallmen has a long history with the company, having worked every job in the plant during his 33 years there.

The process begins when the milk arrives at the plant from the member farmers, Sallmen explains, and is loaded from four receiving bays into either the 30,000-gallon silo or one of eight 50,000-gallon silos. The milk is pasteurized, then sent along to giant cheese vats and onto the molders, after which the cheese is sent to the brining system to cool, and finally to packaging and shipping.

Tim Smallmen, DFA plant manager, checks a cheese vat at the facility in New Wilmington, Pa.

These large blocks of cheese, and that which is shredded at the West Middlesex plant, are shipped to industrial accounts and distributors. “We do in excess of 400,000 pounds of cheese every day, for a total of more than 146 million pounds of cheese in a year,” Sallmen says. “It’s a great challenge every day.”

The association represents more than 13,000 members across the country, including 150 family farms in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, some of which help supply the milk for the plant in New Wilmington. To meet the demands of that plant, it takes about 35,700 cows to produce the milk needed for just one day’s production, she says.

“Milk and dairy products are a nutritional and economic value to consumers, so the utmost care is taken to bring it from the farm to the dairy aisle,” says the association’s O’Brien. 

As a producer of perishables, director of public affairs, governance and administration Heather McCann also explains that there is no waste. “Any overage is turned into other products, such as butter,” she says. 

“Our products are marketed to their best advantage. Successful milk producers take excellent care of their cows, making sure they are comfortable, healthy and happy. Their land and environment are of highest quality for the best milk production possible.” 

When Dean Dairy in South Pymatuning Township, Pa., decided last year to end milk contracts with area farmers, its effect was short-lived. McCann says the company worked hard to find alternative markets.

“This is where they raise their families and they have a vested interest in the product they deliver,” McCann says. “Our passion at the DFA is to find a home for the farmers’ hard work.”

Pictured above: Aerial view of the Dairy Farmers of America plant in New Wilmington, Pa., provided by the company.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.