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Dawson, Paynesville: AMPI plants produce food for the masses

Tony Zimmer, left, drying department supervisor, shows Cory Vadner how to operate the AMPI Paynesville plant's whey protein concentrate tote filler. Each tote is filled with about 1 ton. Submitted photo1 / 3
AMPI Paynesville Whey Superintendent DuWayne Olson, left, visits with AMPI Paynesville Division Manager Matt Quade while standing below the plant's whey dryer and storage bin. Submitted photo2 / 3
Exterior view of the AMPI plant in Paynesville. The Paynesville plant primarily produces cheddar cheese, whey protein concentrate and permeate. Submitted photo3 / 3

Every day, people across the country likely consume products made by Associated Milk Producers Inc. without even realizing it.

AMPI, which is headquartered in New Ulm and has plants in Dawson and Paynesville, among others, produces cheese, butter and dried whey products. These products are then marketed under 170 private label brands for the retail, food service and food ingredient sectors, said Sarah Schmidt, communications director for AMPI.

"We fulfill orders for major grocery store chains and restaurants, with outlets coast to coast," Schmidt said. "Consumers may not even realize they are enjoying cheese and butter produced by AMPI's dairy farmer-owners."

AMPI was formed in 1969 by farmers who wanted to add value to their milk, Schmidt said. Today, the cooperative has around 3,000 dairy farmer-owners.

Each of AMPI's 12 plants specializes in cheese, butter or consumer-packaged dairy products. In Dawson, the concentration is on cheddar and Colby Jack cheese, whey and shelf-stable products, such as cheese sauce and pudding. Paynesville primarily produces cheddar cheese, whey protein concentrate and permeate, Schmidt said.

AMPI's most popular cheese is cheddar and accounts for the majority of the cooperative's cheese product. The cooperative's most unique cheeses are the Italian-style ones -- Asiago, Parmesan and Romano -- produced at the AMPI plant in Hoven, S.D.

AMPI continues to innovate through manufacturing upgrades to improve the quality and quantity of cheese produced. Over the last 10 years, the dairy industry has evolved significantly, Schmidt said.

"The dairy industry continues to change," she said. "A smaller number of dairy farmers are producing a larger volume of milk today than they were 10 years ago."

Although the industry is changing, dairy farming continues to play an important role in Minnesota's economy. The average dairy cow in Minnesota has an economic impact of nearly $25,000, Schmidt said.

"The industry provides a steady market for locally grown corn and feed," she said. "This impact is felt on the main streets of west central Minnesota towns."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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