Dairy facilities in Allegheny County get milk money from new state grant program
Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | 4:15 PM
Two dairy facilities in Allegheny County are slated to receive nearly $400,000 in total grant funding as part of a statewide dairy investment program, Sen. Jay Costa Jr. announced on Wednesday.
Turner Dairy Farms in Penn Hills will receive the bulk of the funds — $334,282 — to increase its dairy processing capacity.
The funding comes at a time when the state’s dairy industry, milk farming in particular, is on a downturn.
The depression is due to a number of contributing factors, including a national glut of milk, a decline in foreign exports and societal shifts to low-fat milk and other products, such as milk derived from nuts. High production levels and declining demand have kept prices low and resulted in a liquidation of dairy farms in Pennsylvania.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the state ranks seventh nationally in total milk production. There are 562,000 cows producing 10.6 billion pounds of milk each year and the industry contributes $14.7 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy.
At the end of 2017, there were 6,570 dairy farms in the state, according to the Center for Dairy Excellence. However, that number has been on a steady decline and the state lost 200 dairy farms in 2016 and 2017.
Steve Turner, the company’s marketing manager, said Turner Dairy Farm is actually not a farm. The family got out of the farming business in 1998. Now, the company is solely a milk processing facility.
“But it’s still a good industry to be in. Consumers are still buying a lot of milk,” Turner said.
He acknowledged overall milk sales are on the decline across the state and nation. “But if you look harder, you’ll see that whole milk, flavored milk, lactose-free milk — all those sales are increasing. And those are all areas where we launched products in the last four or five years. But the biggest is the flavored milk series,” he said.
The facility — which employs 208 at its Jefferson Road site in Penn Hills — launched lactose-free milk in 2017, expanded its office space in 2018 and plans on launching five new flavored milk products this year, including a chocolate strawberry drink in January and a birthday cake flavor in April to celebrate its 90th birthday.
“We have more coming down the pike that we’re still working on,” Turner said.
So the company will use the grant money to construct additional tanks for raw milk handling, which will help the milk processing plant to expand its limited-edition milk product lines.
He said the company is grateful to the government for the grant money. Not only will it help Turner’s, he said, the money will help the 40 dairy farms in Westmoreland, Armstrong, Indiana and Cambria counties Turner’s sources its milk from.
“The farmers are the ones taking the hardest hit right now,” he said.
“Dairy is one of Pennsylvania’s largest industries, with unique and difficult challenges. If we want the industry to continue its success nationally, we need to support it from the state level,” Costa said. “Just this month, I attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show and had the opportunity to speak to several dairy farmers. I’m proud to announce these local grants and anxious to see their projects unfold.”
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca said he is excited for Turner Dairy Farms.
“The Turner family farm has been an integral part of the municipality since it was founded in Penn Hills in 1930. They are very good to the community and while so many local dairies have closed, they continue to find ways to succeed and produce national award-winning milk and dairy products. They are a major employer and it is an honor to have them here in my hometown.”
DeLuca lauded the facility’s success following a 2014 initiative that offered limited-time-only flavored milk products.
He said Turner plans to install a new 20,000-gallon refrigerated silo tank for handling bulk cream; stainless steel piping and electronic controls to connect the tank to the existing system for receiving, processing and shipping bulk cream. The project will also include adding piping and controls to the existing 5,000-gallon tank to connect the tank with the other two existing 3,500-gallon tanks within the flavored milk and fresh cream products system.
The grants are coming from the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, which was established in 2019 for “research and development, organic transition, value-added processing and marketing grants in support of Pennsylvania’s Dairy Industry,” according to a news release from Costa’s office.
The program is administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Agriculture and directed under the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
Another $38,000 will go to Twin Brook Dairy, which has plans to open a new milk processing facility in Homestead.