A $50,000 state grant will be used to butter up a local business.
Canon Dairy in Shenango Township will use the funds to buy pasteurization, bottling and cheesemaking equipment along with a large churn to produce butter. The total cost of the project is $64,780.
The money came from the state Dairy Investment Program.
“We’re hoping to have the project done by late summer,’’ said Mark Canon, whose family has operated the farm for five generations.
Low milk prices have hit the national dairy industry hard. In November, Dean Foods, which operates a milk-processing plant in South Pymatuning Township, filed for bankruptcy. Borden Dairy, another national giant in the industry, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.
Dairy farmers have been shifting into a business model used in the early parts of the 20th century, Canon said.
“In the 1930s and ’40s, dairy farms bottled their own milk and sold it themselves,’’ he said.
But over the years that changed. Dairy farmers took their milk to a central processing plant, which sold the milk to supermarkets and other retailers.
“We want to make ourselves retailers,’’ Canon said.
The biggest change for the farm will be bottling its own milk, Canon said. He is still not sure whether it will be packaged in glass or plastic.
“Plastic is easier and doesn’t break like glass,’’ Canon said.
The farm also will produce its own cheese. Canon’s wife, Marie, recently attended cheesemaking class in Wisconsin.
“In Wisconsin you have to take classes to become a licensed cheesemaker,” Marie said. “Pennsylvania doesn’t have that requirement.’’
Dairy farmers love cheese producers because it takes roughly 10 pounds of milk to create a pound of cheese, she said.
At first the farm will produce mozzarella, as it is the top cheese consumed in the U.S. Cheddar comes in second place. The two cheeses represent 63 percent of all cheese consumption in America, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With more than 100 dairy cows, Canon Diary is among the biggest farms in the local area. The family farm was among the very first to add robotic milking technology, which virtually eliminates human interaction for milking.
Another improvement to be added will be a 10-gallon churner so butter can be produced at the farm. All of these changes are showing how the dairy industry is finding new ways to present themselves to consumers, Canon said.
“Dairy isn’t dying, it’s evolving,’’ he said.
State Rep. Mark Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, said the grant program not only will allow the fifth-generation family farm to grow and to prosper, but will help the county as well.
“Funding that allows this successful Mercer County business to keep more of its operations right here in our community while expanding its product line is a terrific investment and one that will yield returns, not just for this successful business, but for our local economy,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing their progress in the months and years ahead.”
The dairy also will contribute to its own success — investing $14,780 in matching funds, he added.
The Dairy Investment Program is administered jointly by the state Department of Community and Economic Development and the state Department of Agriculture under the direction of the Commonwealth Financing Authority, Longietti said. The program supports the Pennsylvania dairy industry through research and development, organic transition, value-added processing and marketing.
Marie Canon is a board member of the Pennsylvania State Dairy Promotion Board, and in 2018 she was named the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Woman in Agriculture.