The milk processing plant Walmart plans to open in Fort Wayne by the end of the year is an excellent illustration of an important point Indiana Soybean Alliance is making in a report it released earlier this year on the economic development impact of livestock operations.
“The Economic Impact of Animal Agriculture in Indiana’s Regions,” prepared for the alliance by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, uses data from the 2012 Agriculture Census to arrive at job multiplier impacts of various types of livestock operations in the state’s nine crop reporting districts.
In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s northeast Indiana district, for example, dairy farms directly employed 520, the study said.
The farms also indirectly created jobs in areas such as feed production and food processing, for a ripple effect of an additional 450 jobs. On this basis, Matt Kinghorn, a senior demographic analyst with the Indiana Business Research Center, arrived at a job multiplier of 1.87 for dairy livestock operations in the region.
When considering the economic impact of dairy farms, in addition to the jobs they create for feed suppliers, “you have to think about how many food items are produced using fluid milk, and then think about how that goes back into our economy,” said Kelli Kreider, who chairs the Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast Agriculture Program.
The region has ice cream plants as well as milk processing facilities, and those jobs are here as a result of “having dairy farmers within your neighborhood,” she said.
“It’s great for job creation; it’s very beneficial,” Kreider said. “We can’t process fluid milk fast enough; there’s a big need for that.”
Many northeast Indiana livestock operations pump dollars into the region’s economy that they pull here from outside of the state, and from beyond the nation’s borders, she said.
Whiteshite Hamrock in Albion has established a thriving business exporting its genetic material for high-value hogs to China and other foreign markets. A joint venture it started with Tang Ren Shen led to the Chinese pork producer’s direct investment in the company’s U.S. operations.
Clemens Food Group planned to begin operations this summer at a new 550,000-square-foot facility about 60 miles north of Fort Wayne in Coldwater, Mich., where it planned to employ 800.
The facility is expected to make northeast Indiana’s hog farming more profitable, and it has included the region in its employee recruitment efforts.
Northeast Indiana hog and pig livestock operations employed 2,620 directly and created a ripple effect of 720 additional jobs for a multiplier of 1.27, according to the study. The region’s poultry and egg production operations employed 160 directly and created a ripple effect of 690 additional jobs for a multiplier of 5.31.
“Indiana’s hogs, cattle and poultry are an Indiana soybean farmer’s best customers, consuming 95 percent of all soybean meal produced in the state each year,” Tom Griffiths, chairman of the alliance, said in a statement.
“This study shows the livestock industry will continue to enhance and increase the value of our soybeans and will also support local communities across the state that choose to embrace the industry’s growth.”
Griffiths farms out of a base in Kendallville.
In addition to the jobs created directly and indirectly from livestock operations and other forms of farming, they contribute to the region’s quality of life by supporting its growing local foods movement, Kreider said.
Many consumers consider locally produced food fresher and more nutritious, and they appreciate a sense of connection with the people who make it.
“People who are local can say, ‘I work at that place and I know how it’s done and it’s done right,’” she said. “That instills a great deal of trust.”
The alliance commissioned the study as part of its ongoing effort to increase sales for its soybean farmer members, and livestock operations are among their best customers, said Andy Tauer, its livestock and aquaculture director.
“Overall, the goal of this study was to elevate the conversation about agriculture, and more specifically about animal agriculture in those economic development circles. We feel that in those circles, agriculture is not viewed as a large economic development driver,” he said.
The dairy industry provides great illustrations of the impact livestock operations can have on economic development, Tauer said.
Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative announced early this year it is investing $8.7 million in an expansion that will add 22,500 square feet to its 3400 Lima Road facility in Fort Wayne. In addition to equipment needed for existing production, the project will include investment in a new processing system, storage vessels, packaging lines, a cooler and a dry storage warehouse.
That will add eight positions to its current workforce of 117 during the next three years. For the members in the region that supply the co-op, the increased production will mean more business.
Prairie Farms has more than 600 farm family members. Of those supplying its Fort Wayne plant, four are in northwest Ohio and the rest are in northeast Indiana.
Walmart is investing $180 million in construction of a 250,000-square-foot milk processing plant, which will create more than 200 jobs by the end of the year at a site on West Pleasant Center Road near the Fort Wayne International Airport.
“That wouldn’t have happened without the dairy operations in the area,” Tauer said. “There’s a pretty good contingent of dairy cows; as you think about it in manufacturing terms, the raw materials are there.”