CHATEAUGAY — Agri-Mark Inc. and state officials on Friday participated in the groundbreaking of the company’s next phase, toward its $30 million plant modernization project.
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From left, Garry Douglas of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, state Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), Steve Hunt of Empire State Development, state Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake), state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball, Agri-Mark CEO Bill BEaton, Agri-Mark Treasurer and Chateaugay farmer Bill Harrigan, Agri-Mark Chairman Cricket Jacquier and Agri-Mark Secretary Blake Gendebien ceremonially break ground Friday for a $30 million project to expand Agri-Mark’s cheese plant in Chateaugay. (Provided photo — Vincent Gallo, Malone Telegram)

The Farm and Cheese factory off of Collins Street and Route 374 is being expanded toward Church Street in efforts to grow in manufacturing space — which is expected to grow by about 6,600 square feet through the project, Agri-Mark officials said.

The dairy cooperative is a critical operative in Franklin County’s economy and its sole major industry, Chateaugay village Mayor Matthew Clarke said.

The expansion and restoration calls for the rebuild of the cooperative’s 110,641-square-foot manufacturing center while reengineering the layout of the facility. This includes purchasing new machinery and other equipment, Agri-Mark officials said.

“The bones are still there but they’re getting tired,” Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said of the factory, which has served local families for generations. “They’re basically building a new factory, a new … manufacturing factory and it will produce 23% more cheese per day. When we have an influx in milk, they have the ability to produce that much more cheese.

This phase of the project, a project which has been over 10 years in the making, will cost $16 million to build a new state-of-the-art cheese production room. This is designed to improve plant efficiency, which will continue its operations during its modernization effort.

Empire State Development is committing $6 million in funding toward the project, which include $4 million in Economic Transformation Program funds.

This is in order to retain 106 full-time jobs and modernize its Chateaugay operations.

Director of Agri-Mark Corporate Communications Amber Sheridan said the expansion is expected to be completed some time in 2023.

“The one nice benefit of being able to bring in more milk — it actually supports more agricultural jobs out in the community by about 514,” Sheridan said.

The company hopes to grow its cheese production operations while supporting dairy farmers throughout the state. Officials hope the expansion can also promote sustainability of the state’s farm economy.

“We just went through a horrific year with COVID-19. So many things got paused, but agriculture kept going, we kept feeding people,” state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said. “So when I see a project like this, I see optimism, and I see an upstate economy that depends so heavily on agriculture. It’s the biggest economic engine we have in upstate New York. And dairy is the biggest part of that engine.”

The event fell during the state’s celebration of National Dairy Month. The state has more than 3,000 dairy producers, which yield more than 15 billion pounds of milk annually.

“Generations of North Country farm families have relied on this plant to provide a stable home and a profitable market for their milk,” Agri-Mark Treasurer and local dairy farmer Bill Harrigan said.

Harrigan added the project is “a significant modernization project” that will “ensure this plant is equipped to support future generations of local farm families and to continue our legacy of being an economic engine in the region.”

THE Dairy Industry Code of Conduct has brought about a “significant culture change” within the dairy sector and helped increase competition at the farmgate, according to Australian Competition & Consumer Commission deputy chair Mick Keogh.

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