Photo courtesy Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
by Bruce Edwards, Vermont Business Magazine Agri-Mark’s Cabot cheese plant is one of Addison County’s largest employers, with 115 workers producing more than 70 million pounds of Vermont cheddar a year.
Agri-Mark spokesman Doug DiMento said the plant is running at full capacity to meet demand for its cheese products.
“Middlebury continues to be our largest cheddar production facility,” DiMento said in an email response to questions.
The plant on Middlebury’s Exchange Street operates around the clock - 20 hours of production with a four-hour shutdown for sanitation and cleanup.
“We cannot add workers as our plant has been running at full capacity for several years,” he said. “We have increased production at the facility by making some internal equipment adjustments to add efficiencies within the bounds of the existing building, but no plans for expansion in the future.”
Although cheese sales are strong, there remains a concern about the low milk prices to farmers.
“Milk prices continue to be awful for the fourth year in a row,” DiMento said. “Farmers are still struggling with low prices caused by national and regional overproduction and poor markets.”
Sales of whey, a cheese byproduct, have felt the effects of President Trump’s trade war with China.
“Whey markets are a challenge,” he said. “China was our largest market for our whey permeate before tariffs harmed us by several million (dollars) over the last 12 months.”
The Middlebury plant extracts proteins from the whey, which are used for body building drinks and for general nutrition and health drinks. Once the proteins are removed, what’s left is whey permeate.
The Cabot plant has realized substantial savings from the extension of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to Middlebury.
DiMento said the savings fluctuate with the price of natural gas but the savings are in the area of several hundred thousand dollars a year.
Agri-Mark CEO and President Ed Townley will retire in May 2020, DiMento said. He said the Agri-Mark board of directors selected Bill Beaton, senior vice president of human resources, to succeed Townley in May.
Cabot’s cheddar is considered a popular cheese, having won a number of awards over the years. One of the most recent was a first place award for Cabot’s medium cheddar in the U.S. Cheese Championships.
Based in Andover, Mass., Agri-Mark is a dairy co-op with 850 member farms throughout New England and New York. The co-op markets 370 million gallons of milk annually.
Bruce Edwards is a freelance writer from southern Vermont.