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Home News-Telegram News DFA closing local plant - Production, most jobs shifting to Winnsboro facility

DFA closing local plant - Production, most jobs shifting to Winnsboro facility

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The timing, to say the least, could have been better.

On the day that the people of Hopkins County started their annual tribute to the dairy industry, the nation’s largest milking cooperative dropped a bombshell on the the official “Dairy Capitol of Texas.”

Dairy Farmers of America officials confirmed Friday the co-op will close its Main Street plant at the end of the month after 50 years of operations in Sulphur Springs.

“The closing is effective June 30,” said Kristi Bell, media relations manager for DFA, the nation’s largest milking cooperative and the second largest co-op of any kind in the United States. “Forty-one people are employed at the plant. We’re working very closely with them to minimize the impact on their lives and their families.”

DFA, based in Kansas City, Mo., is owned by 18,000 dairy farmer members in 48 states. The cooperative operates about 20 processing plants in the U.S.

Two of those plants have been located within 25 miles of each other — Sulphur Springs and the Keller’s Creamery plant in Winnsboro.

More than a few local dairy farmers were sour when Associated Milk Producers Inc. — one of the four cooperatives that merged in 1998 to form DFA — chose Winnsboro over Hopkins County when it announced it would open a new plant in 1992.

Now, the Winnsboro plant is bottling up that last of the DFA production and jobs in Sulphur Springs — Bell said most of the 41 workers at the local plant on Main Street can transfer to Winnsboro.

“I don’t have an exact number but it is a large majority,” Bell said. “There are a few who’ve opted for early retirement, and a few were offered severance packages due to personal choice or the positions not being available.”

The products being produced in Sulphur Springs — condensed skim milk, condensed whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, cultured buttermilk, and “dairy blend,” or powdered milk — will be shifted to Winnsboro and some of the other DFA plants, Bell said.

Bell quickly added that DFA’s decision will not impact its member farmers in Hopkins County, who should see no change in their service.

“Our members will absolutely continue to have a secure market for their milk,” she said.

The decision to close the local facility, which opened under the cooperative’s ownership in the mid 1950s, was based solely on economics, Bell said.

“The escalating transportation costs, and the fact that we operate two plants in the same geographic area, make it where it’s no longer a financially viable option,” Bell said.

The move will undoubtedly save money for the gargantuan co-op — DFA reported revenues of $11.115 billion and assets of $2.7 billion in 2007 — but is going to cost the people of Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County beyond the lost jobs. Last year, DFA’s four properties on Main Street added considerably to the treasuries of the four main taxing entities in Hopkins County.

According to online records of the Hopkins County Appraisal District, the DFA properties, located on about 16 acres on Main Street across from Coleman Lake, are valued at a combined $2.616 million. In 2008, DFA paid Sulphur Springs ISD, the city of Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County and Hopkins County Memorial Hospital $60,095 in property taxes, according to appraisal district estimates. The breakdown by taxing district:

SSISD — $29,650

Hopkins County — $14,650

City of Sulphur Springs — $11,515

Hopkins County Memorial Hospital — $4,280

Bell said she she did not know when the decision was made to close the Sulphur Springs facility, but it was apparently an isolated decision as opposed to part of a larger co-op strategy to cut costs.

“I’m not aware of anything [other DFA facility closings] right now,” she said.

As far as the exact future of the building and property, that’s up in the air.

“We are currently exploring our options,” was all Bell was told.




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