Milk processing will return to the former dairy town of Girgarre after an absence of almost four decades, following a decision by ACM to build a new multi-million-dollar factory.
The news has been welcomed by Girgarre residents who haven’t seen milk production in their town since Nestle shut the former Girgarre Cheese Factory site.
ACM plans to start work on the Curr Rd site in December, subject to planning approvals, with milk processing expected to start in September next year.
ACM chairman Michael Auld said the factory could employ up to 35 people and process about 100million litres of milk in the first year.
Employment numbers could lift closer to 50 when cheesemaking production starts in the second year of operation and throughput increases to 200million litres.
The company may recruit some experienced staff from the Rochester Murray Goulburn factory, which is shutting down soon.
Asked why the company didn’t buy an existing plant like Rochester, Mr Auld said the processing approach was different and the Girgarre plant would be built to provide maximum flexibility in handling different streams of milk.
The company, which has been recruiting organic dairy farmers recently, intends to install two spray dryers and a discrete processing system which will allow it to handle organic and non-organic processing concurrently.
ACM has purchased 10ha of vacant land adjoining the old cheese factory site.
Mr Auld said the existing services, including gas, electricity and a water treatment system, made the site attractive and Girgarre’s location among dairy farms was also a strategic advantage.
Mr Auld, who grew up in nearby Stanhope, could remember how the old factory had a reputation for milk processing and cheesemaking.
Nestle shut down milk processing at the old factory in 1979, Heinz used the factory for tomato processing for a number of years and more recently a waste food recycling business, Resource Resolutions, has been operating there.
This business will continue with a changed emphasis in the future as the owners have received a $900000 Victorian Government grant to establish a bio-digester which will generate renewable power.
The new ACM factory may buy the power from the neighbouring plant.
Mr Auld said the company’s focus was on establishing a milk pricing structure that removed some of the volatility for farmers and created a more stable income.
Last year the company finished with $5.30/kg milk solids, and this year was paying $5.76/kg.
‘‘Over time we will be able to offer fixed price contracts over three years for a portion of farmer’s milk,’’ Mr Auld said.
He said the new factory would help suppliers get access to markets in Asia and domestically with value-added products such as specialty powders, retail butter, cream and cheese.
He said the company believed there was a viable future in the dairy industry if stakeholders get the model right across the supply chain.
ACM news is 'cream on top of the milk'
Girgarre Development Group members Athol McDonald and Jan Smith in the main street. They are delighted that ACM will build a new milk processing plant in their town.
Although it has been painted over, the neighbouring old factory chimney still bears the initials of the former Girgarre Cheese Factory.,
Girgarre is a town built on milk.
Dairy farmers have worked the land for almost a century. The cheese made from their milk was once processed in the town and exported to many countries.
But after the factory was abandoned in 1979 no-one thought milk processing was ever going to return.
With the departure of milk processing, and a number of social and economic changes common to small towns, the number of businesses in Girgarre has declined, the school enrolment has shrunk and the population has dwindled.
It has been years since a cafe has been operating.
Girgarre Development Group chair Jan Smith was ecstatic to hear a new milk factory was going to be built.
The group has been making a determined effort to reinvigorate the town over the past 10 to 15 years, establishing an annual music festival, regular produce and craft market and more recently making plans for a botanic garden.
‘‘This is the cream on top of the milk,’’ Ms Smith said.
‘‘We believe that small towns do have a future.’’
Fellow committee member and farmer Athol ‘Doc’ McDonald said when they first heard of the plans he was surprised.
‘‘No-one in the town in their wildest dreams would have thought there would be milk processing in Girgarre again,’’ he said.
Although looking forward to the new business, they are also aware that the common experience for small towns with single, big factories (like nearby Stanhope) is that many of the new employees may choose to live out of the town.
But the economic activity does have a spin-off for the community.