Emblematic of domestic “ingredients strategy” that has riled Trump administration
Nation Valley News
WINCHESTER — Wisconsin’s loss was Winchester’s gain as the single largest cheddar plant in Canada unveiled a new $15-million upgrade to entirely displace American and foreign milk protein concentrate (MPC or LPC) imports previously used to augment cheese production here.
The Parmalat Canada site will annually consume an extra 200-million litres of Ontario and Quebec milk — now available to the processor at world prices under a recent “national ingredients strategy” — to make its own LPC, also known as ultrafiltered or diafiltered milk.
Company officials gave tours June 13 through the new ultrafiltration facility — a warren of gleaming, stainless-steel tubing and sophisticated equipment shoe-horned into an existing structure on the north side of the Winchester plant.
Provincial taxpayers contributed $1.3-million to the project. But a company official conceded the upgrade was only made possible by the price cut agreed to by domestic dairy producers last year. It involved the well-publicized creation of a new supply-managed milk class offered at low enough cost to stem the tide of the ultrafiltered alternative from south of the border.
The arrangement has come under fire from U.S. President Donald Trump just as Canada and the U.S. are about to enter NAFTA renegotiations later this summer. (The high-profile loss of production contracts by a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers — allegedly connected to the Canadian strategy — drew the president’s ire in a visit to the dairy state earlier this spring.)
But that foreboding political backdrop formed barely a sidenote to the celebratory occasion in Winchester last week, where the cheese factory is an institution employing 260 locals and traces its history back 126 years.
So substantial is the new development in Winchester, it alone should sop up Ontario’s structural surplus of skim milk, according to another company official. Byproduct of higher overall milk production to meet surging butterfat demand, the Canadian dairy industry has been embarrassed by reports of excess skim milk being dumped as waste because domestic processors lack capacity to turn all of it into traditional skim milk powder.
“It’s nice to see this company taking the initiative to invest in Ontario,” Dairy Farmers of Ontario Chair Ralph Dietrich told Nation Valley News. “It’s using Canadian product for the production of cheese, utilizing more of our protein in their cheese product. It’s very good.”
However, the Bruce County producer also observed that still “more processing is needed, period,” to handle the output of Canada’s dairy farmers.
In his comments from the podium, he lauded the Winchester upgrade as a successful “collaboration” between farmers and Parmalat toward mutual goals of growth and higher quality products. “Back a number of years we had joint goals in mind. Everybody wants growth. We as producers want to milk more cows and produce more milk for Canadian consumers, and processing plants … are looking for growth,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we came to a conclusion on what we jointly needed for the industry to move forward for the benefit of all, and that was the ingredients strategy,” he said. Prior to the arrangement, Canadian producers, processors and consumers were all “losing,” he added. “We could not put Canadian products on the shelves for consumers.”
Both sides had to give a little, Dietrich observed, “that allowed us to end up on this experience and journey that we’re thankful for today.”
“This announcement hails an important phase for the Winchester plant and strengthens its key role in the development of Parmalat Canada’s operations,” said Jean-Paul Quiblier, the company’s senior vice-president of operations. “Our new equipment will help us guarantee an even more consistent cheese quality, which is beneficial both to milk producers and Canadian consumers.” He also cited an increase in the amount of cheese produced per vat at the factory as another benefit of having LPC produced in-house at the site.
Quiblier also noted that upgrades to the plant’s drying facilities would be an upcoming priority.
And in possibly welcome news to residents of some downtown Winchester streets, the plant’s director of operations, Bruce Shurtleff, revealed the company plans to construct a new access road into the north end of the plant, possibly ending the era of milk trucks trundling through the village altogether. That one even caught municipal officials off guard, with North Dundas CAO Angela Rutley attempting to learn more about the road proposal during the plant tour.
In further implications for the municipality, the ultrafiltration system is so efficient, it produces all of its own wash water, extracted from the milk itself. The company hopes to eventually generate all of the plant’s wash-water requirements this way, to handle the regular sanitization of the entire cheese and butter production facilities. Parmalat is currently the largest user of the municipal water supply in North Dundas.
Mayor Eric Duncan prefaced his remarks by congratulating Linda McMahon on her impending retirement from the plant after a 41-year career. “We thought you were going for a 50- or 60-year milestone,” Duncan quipped of the planning manager and health and safety coordinator.
“I wasn’t around whenever you first started, I wasn’t born yet,” the mayor observed as the crowd chuckled. “Linda has been a staple here at Parmalat, and an excellent, excellent representative for the organization… Bruce, you are going to miss her.”
“The reason we’re here is to celebrate today the continued growth and success of Parmalat,” noted Duncan, who went on to highlight the importance of the agricultural sector in the township and the plant’s status “as our largest private-sector employer” and provider of both direct and indirect jobs. The project represented a win for the community and Ontario and Quebec dairy producers, he said.
But jobs at the plant are also to some degree connected with the American dairy industry. Parmalat Winchester processes U.S. milk into U.S. consumer dairy products a couple of days per week for about five months of the year, according to a guide on the recent tour. This occurs under Canada’s “import for export” program where milk from the U.S. is imported duty-free, so long as it is strictly segregated and made into products shipped back exclusively into the American marketplace.
Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Grant Crack addresses the ultrafiltration facility unveiling event on behalf of Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal, followed by local MPP Jim McDonell, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan and Dairy Farmers of Ontario Chair Ralph Dietrich, June 13 at the Winchester Parmalat plant.
Jean-Paul Quiblier, Senior Vice-President, Parmalat Canada, talks about the new ultrafiltration facility in Winchester, also revealing that permeate left over from the process will be used in the production of laxatives in Victoriaville, Que.