Without a place to send their milk, some Indiana dairies have had to shut down their operations. This begs the question, is the Indiana Dairy Strategy working? The strategy was released in 2015 under the leadership of former Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney. Current ISDA Director Bruce Kettler told HAT at the opening of the new Walmart milk processing plant in Fort Wayne two weeks ago that he firmly believes the strategy is working.
“A big part of the dairy strategy was to make sure that we stem that tide of milk flowing out of our borders. And the big way you do that is by getting people to process milk, and add value to milk, within your state borders. And this of course is one of those ways that we can do that. There are other ways whether it’s cheese production, ice cream production, whatever it might be.”
Indiana Dairy Producers Executive Director Doug Leman agreed with Kettler.
“We need more processing in the state. I’m very pleased that our state has a dairy strategy and that they are working on that. And I know that there are projects that they’re still working on.”
Dean Foods terminated contracts with 27 Indiana dairies earlier this month. While some of those impacted have found new processors, some haven’t, leading some to argue that the Dairy Strategy is not working. One of the reasons given for terminating those contracts was the new Walmart processing plant in Fort Wayne.
Social media reaction to the Walmart plant opening has been overwhelmingly negative. Leman says, “This is not a Walmart problem, and I’ve said that all along. Walmart was coming. We’ve known for 3 years that Walmart is coming. Milk has to go through a shuffle. The farms that are going to be supplying this plant probably weren’t, some of them might have been, I don’t know, supplying the Dean’s plant. I call it the milk shuffle. It’s going to have to figure out where the new home is and that’s a little problematic.”
Walmart chose Indiana to build its first food processing facility in the United States, in large part, because of the Dairy Strategy. Kettler says they will continue to talk with Walmart and any other companies to help bring more processing to Indiana.