4/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent
VERONA, Va. — Joined by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and other state and local leaders, officials from Shamrock Farms broke ground last month on a $50 million dairy processing plant at the Mill Place Commerce Park in Augusta County.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., Shamrock Farms bills itself as one of the largest family-owned dairies in the country. The new manufacturing plant in Virginia, scheduled to begin operation by late 2014, will produce 500 bottles of milk per minute and enlarge Shamrock Farms’ production capability by about 30 percent, according to Sandy Kelly, the company’s senior director of marketing.
“In Arizona, we have a farm with more than 10,000 traditional and organic cows and we’re committed to providing the highest level care possible for our herd,” Kelly said in an email. “We will be sourcing our milk for the facility locally, and are excited to work with like-minded Virginia-area family farms to provide our milk.”
Details about how the milk will be sourced, and the exact amount that will be processed annually at the facility are still being worked out, Kelly added. Even while it remains undecided where or how milk will be purchased for the new Shamrock processing plant, several people in the local dairy industry said the new processing plant represents good news for dairy farmers.
“I think they’re going to be a tremendous asset to the area,” said Larry Seamans, manager for member services with the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. “Having more competition in the area is a good thing, and dairy farmers will benefit from that. It’s a real positive move.”
Bob Shipley, area manager for Dairy Farmers of America, noted that, if nothing else, the investment in the facility indicates Shamrock Farms feels positive about the future of the dairy industry. Shipley added that it’s good to see a new plant being built in the area instead of hearing that yet another facility will be shutting its doors.
“It’s got to be good for dairy farmers It’s always good to see the processing side put in a new bottling plant,” Shipley said. “It keeps us positive to know that the industry is alive and well.”
John Welsh, a dairy science Extension agent in Rockingham County, described the construction of the facility as good news but not a “game-changer” for the region’s dairy farmers. He said that while opening a new processing facility won’t necessarily increase overall demand for milk, its nearby location could reduce transportation costs — savings that theoretically could show up as increases in dairy farmers’ checks.
“The value to local farms isn’t that we add value to that hundred-weight that left the farm, it’s just that it was simply cheaper to get it to market,” Welsh said.
George Rohrer, a Rockingham County dairy farmer, simply said he is “excited about the possibilities,” despite the many unknowns about the plant’s impact on the local industry.
“It’s too early to know exactly what it means, but there’s a good chance it could be positive,” Rohrer said.
Kelly, the marketing director for Shamrock Farms, said the new facility will produce its On-The-Go mmmmilk and Rockin’ Refuel brands of milk, plus non-dairy creamer and other dairy-based beverages. The mmmmilk brand is distributed nationwide through various retail and fast-food chains, while the protein-fortified Rockin’ Refuel brand is used by sports teams at 150 universities and colleges, the company says.
The new plant will be 130,000 square feet in size, with room for future expansion, and is projected to employ up to 60 people when it opens.