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1106 PD: Southwest cheese plant opens in Clovis, New Mexico

Brandon R. Covey Published on 09 November 2006

Though the plant broke ground in February 2004 and has been running since last October, Southwest Cheese Co., LLC (SWC), celebrated its official opening on October 6, 2006. Hailed as one of the largest cheese and whey processing plants in the world, SWC is a joint venture between Glanbia PLC and the Greater Southwest Agency. Glanbia, whose global headquarters are located in Kilkenny, Ireland, handles cheese and whey sales and management of the plant, while the Greater Southwest Agency supplies raw milk through Dairy Farmers of America (DFA); Select Milk Producers, Inc.; LoneStar Milk Producers; and Zia Milk Producers.

SWC is expected to boost the local economy, with an annual estimated addition of $1.2 billion to the Eastern New Mexico and West Texas economic regions. The plant has helped solidify New Mexico as a national leader in the dairy industry. Located 9 miles from the Texas border, the plant employs more 200 people.

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“I have worked hard to create high-wage jobs in rural New Mexico, and I am pleased to see this proud military community thrive and expand into a dairy powerhouse,” said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

More than 400 people attended the grand opening. Other attendees at the day-long ceremonies included dairy producers, DFA President and CEO Rick Smith, and DFA’s Chairman of the Board Tom Camerlo. In regard to this effort, Camerlo stated, “The fact that this venture was put together by co-op dairy leaders, by farmers who once competed against one another, is an example of the power of creative and innovative minds and an example of what we can do when we focus on cooperation instead of competition.”

He added, “I believe that five to 10 years from now, we will look back and credit this venture for having been the model for other cooperatives throughout the world who come together and partnered to create efficiencies and to bring high-quality dairy products to consumers throughout the world.”

The $190 million dollar investment is located on 54 acres. The 340,000-square-foot facility produces 40- and 640-pound blocks of cheddar, Monterrey jack, Colby, pepper jack, and mozzarella cheeses, along with high-quality whey products. Approximately 140 truckloads (7,000,000 pounds) of milk are brought in daily, and 44,000 pounds of cheese are processed per hour before being vacuum-sealed and going to cold storage for about 30 days. Cheese blocks are shipped by road and rail.

Also, 275,000 pounds of whey are processed every day to be subsequently used in nutritional bars, sports beverages, weight loss beverages, fresh dairy products, high-protein snacks and clinical nutritional products.

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The facility consists of 60 miles of stainless steel piping and 742 miles of electrical cable and spends about $12,500 on electricity and $9,500 on natural gas every day. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is the fact that more than 500,000 gallons of water are recovered from milk every day, where it is treated and recycled for irrigation. In addition, SWC has spent more than $25 million on water and wastewater management to help protect the aquifer and the environment.

Cheese and whey protein products go to consumers in the United States and worldwide for retail, food service or further processing. SWC is expected to reach full production capacity by early 2007, and it’s expected to process more than 2.4 billion pounds of milk and produce in excess of 250 million pounds of cheese and 16.5 million pounds of high value-added whey proteins each year. The company is on target to achieve sales of $340 million this year. PD

In addition to Richardson, many others were on hand for the official grand opening, including New Mexico Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Representative Tom Udall, Irish Ambassador H.E. Noel Fahey, Glanbia PLC Group Chief Executive John Moloney, DFA’s Southwest Area Council Chairman Wayne Palla (a New Mexico dairyman), DFA Southwest Councilman Mike McCloskey, Clovis Mayor David Lansford and Southwest Cheese CEO and President Maurice Keane.

Brandon R. Covey for Progressive Dairyman

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