West Virginia wants more dairies
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Here’s something you probably haven’t heard in a few years: There’s a place that needs more dairy farmers — now.
That’s the message from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture these days as it looks to meet the new demand of a massive dairy beverage business setting up shop in the Mountain State.
Mountaintop Beverage, owned by a pair of upstate New York businessmen, announced in the fall that it was establishing a 330,000-square-foot processing facility with the capacity to eventually expand to 750,000 square feet and 400 workers.
“Their goal is to rebuild the dairy economy in the state of West Virginia,” said Crescent Gallagher, an agriculture department spokesperson.
To pull that off, the state will need to double its dairy output to 75 million pounds of milk per year, he said. In a state with fewer than 50 operating dairies, that means West Virginia would need to welcome roughly 6,000 additional cows.
Plans to achieve that are still being discussed, Gallagher said, but strategies could include the recruitment of farmers from neighboring states. With the help of West Virginia University, the state is also identifying areas where it could grow its industry, either with new farms or expanding existing operations, he said.
“Mountaintop is not going away for a long time, so we need to start focusing on this issue now,” Gallagher said.
The state recently met with a group of partners, including regional USDA offices, the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, the American Dairy Association, and United Dairy Farmers, a Cincinnati-based chain of shops that sell dairy items, coffee and gasoline in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, he said.
Representatives for Mountaintop could not be reached for comment.
The state has been assisting Mountaintop with the project since June 2019 when it paid for an economic impact study to determine market feasibility and locate potential business sites. The company has since become the largest tenant of a Morgantown technology park. No additional incentives were offered, Gallagher said.
“This is one of the largest business development projects West Virginia has ever seen,” state Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said when his department announced the site in September. “At the same time, they will show West Virginia can be home to food and beverage manufacturing. We are excited to have them.”
Mountaintop has already signed contracts with buyers, and the new facility is on track to open within the next two months, Gallagher said. It is also sourcing milk from farmers in New York and Pennsylvania.