SD cheese plant expansions to go online in '19

Friday, November 23, 2018

MILBANK, S.D.—Cheese plants in northeast South Dakota are booming, and that is providing economic opportunity for some farmers and communities in the Interstate 29 corridor, according to industry leaders in the region.

Doug Wilke, chief executive officer of Valley Queen Cheese Factory Inc., of Milbank, was one of the officials who met with a half-dozen journalists as part of a value-added dairy tour sponsored by the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development. The tour was coordinated by Development Counsellors International of Denver.

Wilke explained that Valley Queen is owned 50-50 by the Nef and Gonzenbach families of Milbank, both of whom have been producing cheese in the community since 1929. The company makes American-style cheeses—cheddar, colby, Monterey Jack and pepper jack. The company delivers cheese to other companies that market under the customers' retail brands—often seen as slices, 8-ounce chunks or shredded. Some of the cheese is used in a popular quick-serve restaurants, subway-style sandwiches in salads.

Dairy manufacturing is "very dynamic" with exports accounting for 15 percent of U.S. dairy manufacture, Wilke said. Moving forward, he said the industry needs a reasonable regulatory environment, as well as workforce development for everything from scientists to salespeople and truck drivers.

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