A $5 million expansion to the Prairie Farms plant on Bourne Avenue is moo-ving forward, and the milk bottling plant celebrated Thursday with a ground breaking ceremony which concluded with guest sipping on the milk of their choice.
The investment will expand the plant's bottling and receiving areas, intended to increase efficiency, add production capacity and add 10 jobs to the plant.
As part of the 6,000 square feet to be added to the building, upgrades will be made to the cooler to allow for an increased volume and quicker off-loading of milk.
Plans are for the operation to be finished mid-2019.
The plant's general Manager, Mike Chandler, thanked those from Prairie Farms as well as local and state elected officials for aiding the project, especially during a time when other plants in the state are shutting down or cutting back.
"Dean's Louisville closed about a week ago," Chandler said. "Prairie Farms had closed a plant in Fulton, Ky., about a three or four months ago. I understand there's about six or seven more plants that are fixing to close, so we didn't want to be part of that group."
The Somerset plant, however, is growing, Chandler said.
"We're one of the largest and most successful dairy cooperatives in the Midwest," he said.
"… We are up here, in this plant, somewhere around 40 percent in volume from a year ago. We're growing fast."
Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles alluded to milk producer problems while praising the Somerset plant.
"It's been a tough time right now, but Prairie Farms has stepped up, and during a difficult time in industry they have expanded. We're so glad to have them not just in Kentucky, but in Somerset. That's a direct result of it being farmer owned," Quarles said.
As Quarles reminded the crowd: "Kentuckians enjoy their bourbon, but milk is Kentucky's official drink."
In addition to Quarles, local and state leaders attending the groundbreaking included Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and Pulaski Judge-Executive Steve Kelley.
Girdler said, "I just want to congratulate Prairie Farms, and Mike [Chandler], on their vision for our community, for their investment of over $5 million, and both the retention of the jobs and the creation of new jobs. That is awesome for our community."
Kelley added, "We're excited to see this in Pulaski County. These are good jobs. Anytime we can help our local industry to grow, that's what we want to do. We want to make our locals stronger."
State Senator Rick Girdler said that Prairie Farms was dear to him and his family, pointing out that his father-in-law used to own several milk routes, his brother-in-law currently owns several routes, and mentioned that Girdler himself had married a "true Southern Belle," referencing the plant's former branding.
While Chandler had thanked Senator Girdler in his role for securing incentives for the project, Girdler said that Chandler had done most of the work.
"To use farmer analogy, he planted the seed, did all the work on the fields. I got to reap the harvest. Mike has worked his tail off on this."
Adding his praise of the project, Representative Tommy Turner said, "This facility does mean a lot to our community. It's one of the stable jobs that we've had here. It's one of the better employers."
Chandler said that on top of the news of the expansion, Prairie Farms could announce that the Somerset plant had won a Grand Champion title for its whole chocolate milk submission to the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest.