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O-AT-KA Milk

Hawley tours Upstate Niagara, supports local farmers

By Press Release
Hawley upstate niagara
Submitted photo of Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C-Batavia) outside Upstate Niagara’s Facilities

Press Release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C-Batavia) toured the Upstate Niagara Cooperative’s O-AT-KA Milk Product facilities in Genesee County on August 17. 

Upstate Niagara is a farmer-owned dairy cooperative that owns eight manufacturing facilities making products such as milk, cream, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, evaporated milk, and specialty beverages, along with employing more than 1,500 people in New York. Hawley is proud to see local businesses helping to support the region and state’s number one industry, agriculture. 

Hawley took the time to meet with management and staff at Upstate Niagara’s facilities including Director of O-AT-KA Operations, Joe Steinocher.

“We were honored to host Assemblyman Hawley at our plant here in Batavia. O-AT-KA Milk, a subsidiary of the Upstate Niagara Cooperative, employs about 450 people and receives milk from many of its 260 local farmer-owners,” said Steinocher about Hawley’s visit. 

“On our tour, we had the pleasure of showcasing the many great things our team continues to accomplish each day. We also highlighted the areas in the plant where we have grown through investment and discussed many of the challenges facing us in the future. We hope Assemblyman Hawley found the tour enlightening and will think of the economic impact O-AT-KA and Upstate Niagara have on Batavia and surrounding communities when he returns to Albany for the next legislative session.”

“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy and cooperatives like Upstate Niagara are leading the charge,” said Hawley. “It is always great to see local businesses making an impact in our community and throughout our state. I will always support our local businesses, farmers, and agricultural industry in Albany.”

800 pounds of butter from O-AT-KA arrives in Syracuse for annual state fair sculpture

By Press Release

Press release:

More than 800 pounds of butter has arrived at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, N.Y., as construction of one of Central New York’s best-kept secrets and most beloved attractions gets underway – the 54th Annual American Dairy Association North East Butter Sculpture, sponsored by Wegmans.

Sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton unpacked the butter and their tools and have begun work on the sculpture. The butter comes from Batavia, N.Y.-based producer O-AT-KA Milk Products.

The butter used for the sculpture is out of specification for retail sale for a variety of reasons, so American Dairy Association North East works with the sculptors to put it to good use by creating a beautiful piece of art that thousands enjoy.

Even after the Fair, the butter doesn’t go to waste. Instead, it will be sent to Noblehurst Farms, a dairy farm in Pavilion, N.Y., where it will be recycled into renewable energy in a digester along with other food waste.

“I really love that this iconic attraction repurposes butter not just once, but twice – first by turning unusable product into an artistic sculpture, and then after the fair, by recycling it into renewable energy on a dairy farm,” says John Chrisman, CEO, American Dairy Association North East. “I encourage fairgoers to visit the Dairy Products Building and see the annual Butter Sculpture that always pays tribute to our hardworking dairy farm families who work 365 days a year to sustainably and responsibly produce milk.”

American Dairy Association North East will unveil the 54th Annual Butter Sculpture to the media and live on their Facebook page on Tuesday, August 23rd, the day before the Fair officially opens. It will then be on display in the Dairy Products Building for the duration of the 13-day Fair.

O-AT-KA Milk donates $2,500 to support 'Community Night'

By Press Release


Press release:

The City of Batavia Police Department today announced that O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative, Inc. will be a Diamond Sponsor for the annual Batavia Police Community Night.

“We are extremely grateful to O-AT-KA for its continued demonstration of commitment to our local community,” said City of Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch.  “For that matter, we are humbled by the support of all the sponsors no matter what their level of sponsorship for an event that brings together our community.”

Community Night Out is part of a community-building campaign that promotes strong police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make safer neighborhoods.

Various organizations and groups once again will be participating in the annual event which will include free food and a bounce house and games for kids and more.

“O-AT-KA recognizes the importance of being engaged in the local community through these types of events that brings so many people together for a positive impact,” said Joseph Steinocher from O-AT-KA.  “We are delighted to be part of Community Night Out.”

The 2022 Batavia Police Community Night is in partnership with The City Church.  The event will be held Tuesday, August 9th from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at City Church at St. Anthony’s, 114 Liberty St., Batavia.

For more information and for those interested in a sponsorship opportunity, should contact Batavia Police Department Detective Matthew Wojtaszczyk at (585) 345-6357 or at

Photo: City Manager Rachael Tabelski, Stephen Quider and K-9 "Batu," Assistant Chief Chris Camp, O-AT-KA Plant Director Joseph Steinocher, Cindy Johnston, with O-AT-KA, Detective Matthew Wojtaszczyk.  Photo by Howard Owens.


GCEDC board approves incentive package for O-AT-KA Milk

By Press Release

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) Board of Directors approved an agreement supporting O-AT-KA Milk Products LLC’s 3,200 sq. ft. facility expansion in the town of Batavia at its board meeting on Thursday, June 2, 2022.

O-AT-KA Milk Products proposed $3.1 million investment will house two new 18,000-gallon tanks to increase capacities of cream-based liquor beverages and future expansions. The project is proposing to create two new jobs at a leading employer in Genesee County’s food and beverage manufacturing ecosystem.

O-AT-KA Milk Products has been a part of the Genesee County community since 1959. Some of their products include dairy-based beverages, evaporated milk, butter, milk powder, and other dairy products. This investment allows O-AT-KA Milk Products, LLC to diversify its offerings of dairy-based beverages.

O-AT-KA Milk Products, LLC requested approximately $208,109 in property, sales, and mortgage tax benefits. The project is estimated to generate $3.5 million of local fiscal benefits over 10 years from project-related payroll and increased tax revenues, equal to $27 dollars in economic activity for every $1 of public investment.

GCEDC board to consider aid for O-AT-KA expansion

By Press Release

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) Board of Directors will consider O-AT-KA Milk Products LLC’s 3,200 sq. ft. facility expansion in the town of Batavia at its board meeting on Thursday, June 2, 2022.

The proposed $3.1 million investment will house two new 18,000-gallon tanks to increase the capacities of cream-based liquor beverages and future expansions. The project is proposing to create two new jobs at a leading employer in Genesee County’s food and beverage manufacturing ecosystem.

O-AT-KA Milk Products has been a part of the Genesee County community since 1959. Some of their products include dairy-based beverages, evaporated milk, butter, milk powder, and other dairy products. 

“We are pleased to see O-AT-KA Milk Products’ continued growth and increasing capacity for value-added products,” said GCEDC President & CEO Steve Hyde. “The success of O-AT-KA Milk Products and our entire food and beverage cluster has produced outstanding benefits to our agricultural community and the nearly 1,000 workers employed in Batavia, the Dairy Hub of the Northeast.”

O-AT-KA Milk Products, LLC has requested approximately $208,109 in property, sales, and mortgage tax. The project is estimated to generate $3.5 million of local economic benefits over 10 years, equal to $27 dollars in economic activity for every $1 of public investment.

A public hearing for the initial application was held in the town of Batavia on May 23.

The June 2, 2022, GCEDC Board meeting will be held remotely at 4 p.m. A livestream and on-demand recording of the meeting also will be available at

Town planners approve additions at O-At-Ka Milk, Gateway GS LL site on Call Parkway

By Mike Pettinella

The Town of Batavia Planning Board on Tuesday night approved site plans for additions at O-At-Ka Milk Products on Ellicott Street Road and to buildings under construction by Gallina Development of Rochester at the Gateway GS LLC site on Call Parkway, north of the Thruway interchange.

Kelly Finch, senior director of engineering and operational technology at O-At-Ka Milk, explained that the project involves “increasing the plant’s capacity by fully utilizing what is there.”

Specifically, O-At-Ka Milk plans to construct a 58- by 70-square-foot addition that includes three storage tanks for the company’s growing alcohol-based beverage operation.

Finch said one of the tanks measures 15 feet high by 8 feet in diameter and the other two measure 28 feet high by 12.5 feet in diameter. The addition is to be placed on the south side of the property, which spans the corner of Ellicott Street Road and Cedar Street.

Rod Ives, civil engineer for Napierala Consulting of Syracuse, shared that the addition will go in an area that currently is paved, resulting in no stormwater runoff.

The planning board conducted a State Environmental Quality Review and found no adverse effects before voting in favor of the site plan.

Following that, the board voted favorably on the SEQR and site plan submitted by Gallina Development to change the square footage of two office buildings under construction.

The first would increase from 22,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet and the second would go from 27,000 square feet to 33,600 square feet. A third building, designated for future construction, will be reduced from 27,000 square feet to 17,400 square feet.

Overall, the total area of development originally approved – five building lots -- would remain at 135,000 square feet.

City of Batavia, O-At-Ka Milk Products working to resolve wastewater issues; cease-and-desist order is revoked

By Mike Pettinella


With O-At-Ka Milk Products’ new $5.5 million pretreatment plant online and the Dissolved Oxygen levels at the City of Batavia’s Waste Water Treatment Plant on the road to recovery, a once-tense working relationship between the two entities has moved into a “spirit of cooperation” phase.

Both William Schreiber, O-At-Ka Milk’s chief executive officer, and City Manager Rachael Tabelski reported to The Batavian that recent discussions over wastewater flowing from the Ellicott and Cedar Street industry into the WWTP as well as the condition of the lagoons have been positive.

So positive, in fact, that the city has rescinded the cease-and-desist order it invoked upon O-At-Ka last October when city employees discovered that O-At-Ka’s wastewater contained exceptionally high levels of contaminants.

Schreiber, speaking by telephone this morning, said he received a letter from Tabelski that the restriction has been lifted, and Tabelski confirmed that via an email.

“O-At-Ka’s pre-treatment efforts and recent solution have gone well, and have positively impacted the recovery of the Waste Water Treatment Plant,” she said on Tuesday. “We continue to have discussion about a variety of matters, and look forward to the continued relationship moving forward as they continue to grow here in Batavia.”

Tabelski said the DO levels have recovered, “but we continue to monitor all or our industrial users, review daily DO samples from the ponds, and are working daily on an in-depth analysis of the entire system (WWTP Headworks) to further improve the WWTP.”

She said the study will take about a year to complete and will help the city determine future capital projects at the WWTP.

Schreiber, mentioning a productive meeting last Friday, said “the real message” is that O-At-Ka and the city are cooperating.

“We were on a thin line there for a while,” he said, referring to an impasse that resulted in O-At-Ka having to spend nearly $1.5 million to haul waste to other locations last fall. “But we've managed to navigate our way to a better place on both sides. So, I am feeling much better about the spirit of cooperation that we're getting from the city and their willingness to work with us on a solution that works for both parties.”

He said the company’s new pretreatment plant, which was approved by the Upstate Niagara Cooperative board of directors months before any problems with the city surfaced, is consistently producing effluent that meets the parameters established in the permit with the city.

“This was our goal from the beginning – to build a properly-sized plant that could accommodate our growth and allow us to operate without paying additional surcharges to the City of Batavia,” he said. “Our board (O-At-Ka is owned by Upstate Niagara) approved the funds in January of 2020 and we took this step without provocation or an imperative from others.”

Submitted photo: Modern production line at O-At-Ka Milk Products in Batavia, where cans and bottles are moved via a lube-less conveyor, selected for its sanitary design.

Previously: O-At-Ka Milk Products CEO encouraged by progress of its pretreatment facility

O-At-Ka Milk Products CEO encouraged by progress of its pretreatment facility

By Mike Pettinella

The new pretreatment plan at O-At-Ka Milk Products, Inc., is operational -- and that is good news for the Upstate Niagara Cooperative-owned facility at 700 Ellicott St.

However, according to Chief Executive Officer William Schreiber, the company’s inability to increase the amount of wastewater it sends into the City of Batavia’s Waste Water Treatment Plant has not changed – and that is not so good news as talks with city officials in that particular area have stalled.

“Once the city decided not to accept our offer to help accelerate oxygenation of the (WWTP) lagoons, we directed all our resources to the successful commissioning of the new pretreatment plant,” Schreiber said today by email in response to questions from The Batavian.

“We have not been in touch with the city regarding any additional loading for the past two weeks; hence, we assume their position hasn’t changed.”

An email sent around 1 this afternoon to City Attorney George Van Nest seeking an update on the WWTP’s recovery to permitted Dissolved Oxygen levels has yet to be returned.

Because the city has restricted O-At-Ka’s discharge over the past few months, the company has been forced to transport wastewater from its property to other locations.

“Hauling of wastewater has continued to be reduced on a daily basis throughout the commissioning of the new plant,” Schreiber said, pointing out that it has cost O-At-Ka more than $1 million in trucking related charges.

Meanwhile, workers have continued to upgrade the milk processing plant’s pretreatment capabilities.

“We began commissioning (the new plant) one week ahead of schedule,” Schreiber said. “Since then, we have been steadily increasing both the flow and organic loading to the new plant.  As of the end of last week, things are progressing according to plan.”

The CEO said O-At-Ka is incrementally increasing flow to the new pretreatment plant and decreasing flow to the older plant, which are located off Cedar Street.

“We are presently operating at approximately 50 percent capacity from design flow and 35 percent capacity of design loading.  In both cases this has doubled in the past seven days,” he added.

Schreiber said he is encouraged by the “numbers,” explaining that “the biology is starting to attach to the media and growth is proceeding consistent with expectations.”

He said a new equalization tank will be incorporated as the main flow tank by the end of the month and assembly of the new Dissolved Air Flotation has been completed on site along with the installation of the polymer addition line.

The DAF, not part of the original design, helps facilitate a process that removes solids before the wastewater enters the Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor and reduces the load.

The situation regarding O-At-Ka’s wastewater pollutant levels into the city’s lagoons came to light in mid-October when John Gould, Upstate Niagara chairman, addressed city council.

At that time, Van Nest said the city had no choice but to issue a “cease and desist” letter to O-At-Ka after discovering exceedingly high levels of contaminants in wastewater discharged by the facility.  More recently, the city attorney reported that the lagoons are returning to normal levels, but still have a ways to go.

Previously: City sends 'cease and desist' letter to O-At-Ka Milk as issues at waste water treatment plant continue

Previously: Meeting with engineers working with city give O-At-Ka CEO optimism that wastewater issue can be solved

Meeting with engineers working with city give O-At-Ka CEO optimism that wastewater issue can be solved

By Mike Pettinella


Friday’s meeting with the engineering firm representing the City of Batavia -- coupled with continued progress on completion of a new pretreatment facility – is giving O-At-Ka Milk Products Chief Executive Officer Bill Schreiber hope that wastewater restrictions placed on the Cedar Street processing plant will come to an end in the near future.

“Our technical team had a good exchange of information with the city and their engineering firm (GHD Group of Buffalo) this afternoon,” Schreiber said in an email to The Batavian. “The team presented several options we think will assist in elevating dissolved oxygen levels in the lagoons (at the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant) and support recovery.”

In the meantime, O-At-Ka officials have been hauling wastewater to other locations on a daily basis for several weeks – currently at an average cost of $13,000 to $15,000 per day, Schreiber said.

This became necessary when City of Batavia leaders determined that the dissolved oxygen levels in the ponds were insufficient and not in compliance with the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that regulates O-At-Ka. As a result, the city issued a cease-and-desist order to the plant, which is owned by the Upstate Niagara dairy farmer cooperative.

Schreiber and John Gould, Upstate Niagara chairman of the board, have been calling for a meeting with city engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to forge a “three-party solution.”

While the DEC apparently was not involved in Friday’s discussion, Schreiber said that engineers working with the city “have indicated they will consider what was presented and we hope to have further discussion next week.”

Work on getting its new pretreatment plant up and running is on schedule, Schreiber said, adding that Nov. 15 is the target date to begin seeding and flow to the new Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor.

“The media for the new MBBR has been received,” Schreiber said. “The blower mechanical and electrical installation is complete, and pre-commissioning and walk through for the blowers is planned for November 8th.”

He said the company also is acquiring an additional Dissolved Air Flotation – not part of the original design -- to augment the existing unit, facilitating a process that removes solids before the wastewater enters the MBBR and reduces the load.

Calls to City Attorney George Van Nest, who is speaking on behalf of the city regarding this situation, were not returned at the time of the posting of this story.


Photo at top: The new Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor with the media for it on the ground to the left of the structure; Photo below: An inside view of the MBBR. Submitted photos.

Previously: City attorney: WWTP levels are heading in right direction; O-At-Ka has to abide by conditions of permit

City attorney: WWTP levels are heading in right direction; O-At-Ka has to abide by conditions of permit

By Mike Pettinella

Recovery of the lagoons at Batavia Waste Water Treatment Plant is heading in the right direction, according to the city’s attorney, but the end to limiting the discharge from the O-At-Ka Milk Products facility is likely several weeks away.

“We’re closely monitoring the ponds and are seeing signs of progress to determine if the BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) recovery is on track,” George Van Nest said on Monday. “We’re checking it daily, twice a day, and also monitoring O-At-Ka’s loads. But the ponds are still not fully recovered at DO (Dissolved Oxygen) levels and they need to sustain (permitted levels).”

Over the past few weeks, O-At-Ka has had to pay companies to truck wastewater from its Cedar Street plant due to discovery of excessive levels of biosolids being discharged into the WWTP, costing the company around $25,0000 per day, Chief Executive Officer Bill Schreiber said.

O-At-Ka has called upon the city to sit down with company officials and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to find “a three-party solution” to bridge the gap until the Upstate Niagara-owned business completes a $6 million on-site pre-treatment plant project in the next six to eight weeks.

Contacted on Monday, Schreiber said he was “hopeful that we will be able to schedule a three-party meeting in the near future.”

“Our goal remains to discuss the implementation of potential solutions to accelerate the recovery of the city’s lagoons,” he said.

BOD Load Levels Are Improving

Van Nest said the city had no choice but to send a cease-and-desist letter to O-At-Ka on Sept. 23 because the BOD loads were too high.

‘We have seen significant reductions as a result of the trucking, but even with the trucking, there have been only three days below the permitted level, and closer to the level on several days,” he said.

The code gives the municipality the right to cease-and-desist, and allows the city to shut off discharges to the system completely, he said.

“The city has not done that. We’re working to get the discharge limits met and in compliance while the pond recovers.”

Van Nest said that O-At-Ka’s offer to pay any fines incurred for excessive discharge into the WWTP is not an answer to the problem.

“The ponds need to operate properly. It’s not a matter of we can indemnify you (the city) by discharging beyond the permitted level,” he said, adding that the city is responsible to its taxpayers.

“It’s taking some time to recover. We’re looking for sustainability and believe that is fairly a short-term to get to the point where engineers (working with the city) and (the WWTP) operator is comfortable with (the levels). These are 30-acre ponds, and the volumes are huge.”

'Permit Sets The Conditions'

Van Nest, when asked about a three-party solution as proposed by Schreiber and John Gould, Upstate Niagara chairman of the board, said “the solutions they are pushing for are related to the plant … and the (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit sets the conditions.”

“The city is open to meeting with O-At-Ka and its engineers,” he said. “We’re ready, willing and able to sit down with them and look at other potential solutions.”

Still, he said he doesn’t believe any of the alternatives offered by O-At-Ka will reduce the time needed for the ponds to recover to permitted DO levels.

“They mentioned cleaning the diffusers. That would be a public project that needs to be bid, let and issued, and funded. It’s a long process that would take a lot of time,” he said. “And how much of an impact would that have on the oxygen levels in the pond?”

Van Nest said sampling data showing elevated BOD and TSS (Total Suspended Solids) levels indicate that O-At-Ka increased its production capacity beyond its pre-treatment capacity.

Schreiber countered that by mentioning that the characteristics of O-At-Ka’s wastewater haven’t changed.

City Has Been Collecting Surcharges

“These are the same loads we’ve been putting down historically,” he said. “We’ve paid the city surcharges for those loads. They’re well aware of what the characteristics of what our wastewater have been and they’ve happily collected those surcharges.”

He said O-At-Ka has paid approximately $60,000 per quarter in surcharges, which are for BOD and TSS over the permitted level of 300 parts per million.

O-At-Ka’s existing pre-treatment plant is between 15 and 20 years old. In January of this year, the company’s board of directors approved a $6 million capital project to put in a new pre-treatment plant (located off Cedar Street).

“Originally, we had planned to have that up at the end of October or early November, but like everybody else, we’ve experienced a number of supply chain challenges that have pushed the date out to mid-December,” Schreiber said.

“But, again, looking to control the things we can control – such as flows down the drain – we’ve redoubled our efforts to expedite getting components here, and we think we’ll be able to get it operational between the middle of November and early December.”

Even if that’s up and running in five weeks, it would cost O-At-Ka around $875,000 to haul the wastewater to other locations.

Schreiber said O-At-Ka typically discharges around 575,000 gallons of wastewater – a milky water mixed with detergent – to the WWTP. Now, with the restrictions, that amount is 475,000 to 500,000 gallons per day.

Pre-Treatment Upgrade Underway

O-At-Ka’s current pre-treatment operation consists of two separate 150,000-gallon equalization tanks that balance pH and BOD loading, Schreiber said. The wastewater flows to the Primary Dissolved Air Flotation, which can process 360 gallons per minute, removing 25 percent of the solids.

After that, it goes to the digester, removing organic materials at 330 gallons per minute, and leaves an Immobilized Cell Bioreactor and flows through tubes that mix wastewater with chemicals to provide coagulation and flocculation. Lastly, the wastewater flows through the Secondary DAF, removing 85 to 90 percent of solids.

“The pre-treatment plant upgrades will double EQ capacity and significantly enhances the ability to remove BOD and TSS,” Schreiber said.

He said the new EQ tank is 600,000 gallons and the new moving Bed Bio Reactor can process 12,000 pounds of BOD per day. The company also has purchased three 250-horsepower blowers to make the process more efficient, and is installing an additional DAF capable of 540 gallons per minute to augment the existing unit.

Previously: O-At-Ka offers alternatives, claims city is protected as it seeks to end hauling of wastewater from its facility

O-At-Ka Milk working to recover from cyber-attack

By Mike Pettinella

O-At-Ka Milk Products’ information technology team is working with law enforcement and cybersecurity experts in the wake of “a sophisticated cyber-attack” that began earlier this week.

Bill Schreiber, chief executive officer of the milk processing plant at Cedar Street and Ellicott Street Road, confirmed to The Batavian that the ransomware attack started on Thursday night and affected to varying degrees company computers, time clocks and other equipment.

“O-At-Ka did experience a sophisticated cyber-attack, and our team responded immediately and has been working around the clock to remedy the situation and resume normal operations,” he said. “We have been working with law enforcement and industry experts to investigate and recover from the attack.”

Schreiber said O-At-Ka routinely prepares for such attacks and “the contingencies we put in place have been effective in restoring and maintaining our business functions.”

“Our customers have been minimally impacted and we continue to work with them on a routine basis to ensure ongoing operations and business continuity,” he said. “I’m thankful for the team’s continued hard work and efforts in response to the attack.”

O-At-Ka offers alternatives, claims city is protected as it seeks to end hauling of wastewater from its facility

By Mike Pettinella


Update: 6:30 p.m. -- See bottom of the story


The chief executive officer at O-At-Ka Milk Products today said engineers at the Upstate Niagara cooperative-owned milk processing plant are prepared to present alternatives that would satisfy the City of Batavia and bring an end to a situation that is forcing the company to spend $25,000 to $30,000 per day hauling wastewater away from the facility.

The problem, however, according to Bill Schreiber, is that city management will not sit down with officials from O-At-Ka and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to iron out what he calls “a three-party solution that would be a win-win for everyone involved.”

Schreiber and John Gould, owner of Har-Go Farms in Pavilion and chairman of the board for Upstate Niagara, a consortium of 300 dairy farmers, spoke to The Batavian this morning.

They expressed their dismay over not being able to deposit all of its wastewater into the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant and “a lack of urgency” from the city.

Gould brought this issue to public light at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting when he informed lawmakers of the staggering costs to haul the wastewater away from O-At-Ka.

Several minutes later, he learned from City Attorney George Van Nest that the municipality had no choice but to enforce a cease-and-desist letter it sent to O-At-Ka after discovering that discharge levels from the Cedar Street plant were above permitted limits.

Van Nest said the DEC sent a notice of violation to the city, threatening enforcement action and large fines because of the oxygen levels in the ponds.

Gould: 'There's Something Wrong Here'

Gould’s anger with the city’s stance came through in his comments earlier today.

“Back to the Council meeting, Mr. Van Nest, puts the fear of God into them with the DEC. So, everybody’s fearful of each other and we’re getting nothing done,” he said. “There was more discussion about who was paying for Christmas in the City then there was about the largest employer in the city and the economic impact upon it. There’s something wrong here.”

Contacted today, City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said Council is leaving the matter in the hands of Van Nest, City Manager Rachael Tabelski and engineers working with the city.

“We’re following the advice of our attorney, which is basically telling Mr. Gould and the staff there that they are supposed to talk to the city manager and the city attorney. Those are the people that Council has delegated to address the issue.

“Mr. Gould is bypassing some things and that’s not really for me to say what he is supposed to do or not supposed to do, but we’re not going to comment on it. We’ll let the professionals handle it – the city manager, the engineers, the city staff take care of it.”

Schreiber: Pre-Treatment Plant Upgrade Underway

Schreiber, in his ninth year at O-At-Ka, said the company is about six to eight weeks away from completing a $6 million upgrade to its on-site pre-treatment facility – action that he said will bring an end to this impasse as the amount of Biochemical Oxygen Demand and Total Suspended Solids will return to acceptable levels.

Until that new pre-treatment facility is operational, O-At-Ka is taking a substantial financial hit.

When it was mentioned that the expense could be as much as $1 million over the next 40 days, Schreiber responded: “That puts our business at risk, it puts our customers at risk, it puts our employees at risk and it puts our farmer owners at risk. Absolutely.”

The CEO said he is aware that the city has to comply with its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, but is seeking for “a bridge” to get us to the start-up of the new treatment facility.

“And what we got in exchange was a cease-and-desist (letter from the city). We don’t understand the lack of cooperation coming out of the city,” he said. “And it’s our understanding that the DEC would be willing to work towards a three-part solution. We’ve sent several letters to the city and we’ve not received a response.”

Schreiber said there are four or five different alternatives that would serve to increase the dissolved oxygen levels in the city’s lagoons, which have yet to recover adequately following replacement of the air header system at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in late August.

“Some of them are routine maintenance; getting into the diffusers and lagoons and cleaning them. That would have an immediate impact,” Schreiber advised.

“There’s a device called a venturi, which essentially serves to incorporate oxygen into the lagoons. There are companies that work with hydrogen peroxide, which when added to the lagoons, breaks down into oxygen and water – and essentially elevates the oxygen levels in the lagoons.”

Furthermore, Schreiber said he “fundamentally disagrees that we’re putting the city and the city’s taxpayers at risk.”

Permit: O-At-Ka Would Be Responsible for Fines

He said the city is protected under Section III.4 of the Industrial Sewer Use Permit, as follows:

“If the User [i.e., O-At-Ka] discharges above its Permit thresholds to such a degree that it causes the Publicly Operated Treatment Works (POTW) to violate its SPDES Permit, the User shall be held responsible for the payment of any fines or penalties levied against the POTW. This is in addition to any extra costs associated with handling such discharges as provided for in the Sewer Use Ordinance.”

“O-At-Ka has told City officials both in writing and verbally that it accepts full responsibility for any fines and penalties issued by the DEC or any other regulatory body that are attributable to our discharges,” he added. “We welcome the inclusion of DEC in these discussions regarding regulatory liability.”

Schreiber said O-At-Ka is seeking “a comprehensive, long-term solution to this.”

“We’re not looking for a band-aid. We recognize that the city has to meet its use permit, and we want to be part of the solution. But there seems to be, in our view, a lack of urgency on the city’s part while we’re burning through cash. We would rather channel those dollars to a constructive solution than use them to haul wastewater away.”

He said there are implementable steps that can be taken at the Waste Water Treatment Plant that will allow for the easing of restrictions on O-At-Ka wastewater discharges without impeding the recovery of the ponds.

“O-At-Ka is not seeking permission to discharge indiscriminately to the city nor are we ignoring the impact high strength wastewater can have on the ponds.  However, we are very confident that there are engineering solutions that can wholly offset the impact and further accelerate the health and recovery of the ponds.”

City Manager: 'We Can't Allow Willful Violations'

The Batavian reached out by email to Tabelski and to the DEC’s press office for comment.

Tabelski, speaking to WBTA Radio earlier this week, said O-At-Ka is “an industry here that we value for their employment and for the use of the milk supply that comes from the farms. That’s not lost on me. But we cannot allow willful violations of permits at the city Waste Water Treatment Plant.”

She also said that O-At-Ka officials acknowledged what they need to get to “a place that allows their discharge to be at a permitted level.”

“Right now, they can be at their permitted level, but they have to truck many, many truckloads of waste away. That’s showing that their capacity isn’t in line with their production,” she said.

Schreiber is calling for a “technical conversation that going to lead us to a resolution of this problem.”

Gould agreed, stating, “Collaboration to us is getting the stakeholders in the same room and sit down and solve the problem."

Schreiber said the O-At-Ka board of directors have approved $35 million in capital spending for 2021 and 2022, but “we’ll have to look really hard at where the next capital investment goes.”

He said completion of the pre-treatment facility will result in a permanent fix.

“As I said, we’re just looking for a bridge, and we can’t seem to get cooperation from the city,” he said. “The city seems to be blaming DEC; everybody but themselves, quite frankly.”


Comment from City Manager Rachael Tabelski: "In response to your inquiry, there continues to be an ongoing and open dialogue between city officials and O-AT-KA regarding discharge issues at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. As we also have communicated, public health and safety as it pertains to these discharge issues is our number one priority so that the WWTP is operating within all its regulatory obligations."

Statement from NYS DEC: "The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) remains committed to working with all involved parties to develop and implement necessary solutions to address these issues. DEC will continue to meet with the city and O-At-Ka Milk Products regarding technical and infrastructure needs, and will convene additional meetings with these parties as these efforts progress."

Photo at top: O-At-Ka CEO Bill Schreiber and Upstate Niagara Chairman of the Board John Gould in front of the new equalization tank that is part of the company's ongoing upgrade of its pre-treatment facility. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Previously: City sends 'cease and desist' letter to O-At-Ka Milk as issues at waste water treatment plant continue

City sends 'cease and desist' letter to O-At-Ka Milk as issues at waste water treatment plant continue

By Mike Pettinella


City of Batavia officials are doing everything they can to rectify a dispute with O-At-Ka Milk Products over the milk processing plant’s ability to discharge its waste water into the municipality’s waste water treatment plant, City Attorney George Van Nest said Tuesday night.

The problem, however, according to Van Nest, is that no viable option currently exists to prevent the city from enforcing the “cease and desist” letter it has issued to O-At-Ka after discovering exceedingly high levels of contaminants in the waste water sent into the ponds from the Cedar Street industry.

Van Nest said the city is facing the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines levied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation if it doesn’t ensure that the ponds’ dissolved oxygen levels are within the required range.

O-At-Ka, as a result of the city’s action, already has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased costs by having to truck waste water away from its facility and, according to Chairman of the Board John Gould, the company will not be able to sustain that expense for much longer.

The situation was made public when Gould, a dairy farmer from Pavilion, spoke during the citizen comments portion of last night’s City Council Business Meeting.

Describing O-At-Ka as “experts in waste water handling with an excellent engineering team and excellent consultants,” Gould explained that the company handles a couple billion pounds of milk every year.

“We’re committed to sustainable waste water handling in this community,” he said. “We do that with more than words; we do it with action.”

Gould said that Upstate Niagara, a consortium of 300 farmers, owns eight plants in New York, including O-At-Ka, which employs 450 people.

Pre-Treatment Upgrades are in Sight

He advised that the company is investing $6 million to upgrade its waste water pre-treatment facility, with expectations that it will be online in December. He then talked about the hardship that the restriction has created, and called for a “collaborative solution (with) no stonewalling.”

“We need a win-win situation here. We’re committed to this city and we expect that you’re committed to us,” he said.

Gould said the company complied with the city management’s request in August to restrict its flow in order for crews to complete the air header project at the waste water treatment plant.

“The result of that was a 14-day shutdown of O-At-Ka’s discharge. We had to haul waste water away from the plant at a cost of a half million dollars for O-At-Ka,” he said. “We paid overtime for the employees so we could cut that time from 14 to 11 days. That was our commitment in August.

“In September, we were called in and, again, we’re on a restricted level of discharge to the city and it’s costing us between $20,000 to $50,000 a day, every day. We don’t take Sunday off. At the current rate, we’ll easily be spending $1 million hauling waste away from our plant that used to be accepted by the city – no problem.”

While Gould said he was “confident” that a solution could be found by sitting down with the city and the DEC, he added that O-At-Ka officials would have to “make drastic decisions” should the city “continues on this path.”

Pointed Questions to the City

“I certainly don’t want to have to furlough workers or reduce business,” he said. “I’ve got to ask, What is the city’s vision of the future here if this is the way you treat your best and largest business in the city? Where are we going? How are you going to support new business? What does the future look like to you folks?”

Gould concluded his 4 ½ minutes at the podium by saying, “I encourage you to get together with us. Let’s sit down and figure this out.”

Van Nest spent twice as long responding to Gould’s concerns, clearly articulating the city’s position that it has to do what is in the best interests of the functionality of the waste water treatment plant and – because of the financial ramifications – what is in the best interest of city taxpayers.

The soft-spoken attorney seized the opportunity to review developments stemming from the $1 million air header project that was completed in late August – well ahead of the schedule due to the deteriorating condition of the apparatus. The venture was moved up because the city had been getting numerous complaints from residents about the odors coming from the plant.

“Those complaints have been made to the city, made to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), made to the DEC,” he said. “The city has worked very closely with its engineers, with in-house staff … to address replacement of the air header system at the ponds, so the ponds and the waste water treatment plant function properly for the community.”

Dissolved Oxygen Levels are a Problem

Speaking in technical terms, Van Nest said that dissolved oxygen levels in the ponds were decreasing as the air headers were not working to the best of their ability and as they degraded.

“At the same time, as it appears from data that the city reviewed, there were high BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) loadings issued to the waste water treatment plant from O-At-Ka, which created a situation which depressed the dissolved oxygen levels that need to be in the ponds and allow them to function properly – ponds A1, A2 and A3,” he stated.

Van Nest acknowledged that O-At-Ka was asked “to cease discharging for up to a couple weeks while the one pond was taken out of service and the air header was replaced.”

“Ultimately, (the plan was) to roll back on slowly, so that the ponds and the DO recovery could take place when the air header system was ultimately turned back on to maximum ability,” he added.

Unfortunately for O-At-Ka, data collected by city staff showed that the company’s BOD and TSS (Total Suspended Solids) discharges were “well in excess” of the 300 milligram per liter level allowed through the Sewer Industrial Discharge Permit issued by the City of Batavia, Van Nest said.

As a result, the 30-acre ponds did not recover as fast as anticipated.

“They were well below the 2.0 threshold for dissolved oxygen that needs to be in place,” the city lawyer said.

DEC Issues 'Notice of Violation' to City

When the DEC realized this in late September, it sent a notice of violation to the city, looking at enforcement action through its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (or SPDES), Van Nest advised, “because the dissolved oxygen levels were so low and they were not going to allow the ponds to function properly pursuant to the SPDES permit.”

From that point on, many conversations have taken place – both internally and with the DEC, he said.

“There were communications with the DEC relative to that notice of violation, which is a precursor … to a potential order on consent from the DEC or EPA,” he said. “The order on consent would carry with it penalties and compliance schedules, and the penalties are significant. They could be $30,000 per day per violation for an owner of a plant that is in violation.”

Within a week, the city sent the cease and desist letter to O-At-Ka, Van Nest said, “indicating that O-At-Ka should cease discharges to the extent possible and, ultimately, completely to the plant so the dissolved oxygen levels could rebound.”

Van Nest noted that action forced O-At-Ka to truck as much as 150,000 gallons of waste water to another location, while an additional amount continues to flow to the waste water treatment plant.

“City staff and engineers are monitoring the levels – the DOD levels in the pond and the discharge levels from O-At-Ka daily, sometimes twice a day,” he advised. “Right now, the ponds have still not recovered. The DO levels are climbing somewhat, but they are not back to where they need to be from an engineering standpoint for the city’s engineers to be comfortable with the circumstance to say that the ponds have recovered.”

City Attorney: Communication Lines are Open

Van Nest disagreed with the suggestion that city leaders have not reached out to O-At-Ka officials.

“I’ve been in communication with the attorney for O-At-Ka in the last 24 hours on two occasions, The technical staff for the city has been in communication with O-At-Ka’s technical staff and engineers on several instances,” he said. “Part of the issue is that O-At-Ka and the engineers keep suggesting that there are alternative available for the city’s ponds, for the waste water treatment program at the city’s ponds to recover more quickly.”

He said one of the suggestions – bringing in portable air pumps to generate more oxygen – would possibly work except that type of equipment is not available.

“To this day, two and a half to three weeks after this issue arose, we have not heard of any of these pumps being available -- any of these pumps being located in the northeast. So that solution is not something that can be implemented at this time,” he said.

He said engineers representing the city are open to other ideas, but “at this point we don’t see anything that is currently available and implementable on the timeline that these ponds need to recover on that will, in fact, meet those requirements.”

Van Nest said he understood that the situation is affecting the bottom line for O-At-Ka, but said it is the company’s responsibility to comply with the SPDES permit’s hard-and-fast rules and regulations.

“So, with all due respect, it’s a major industrial user of the city’s waste water treatment plant. But there are obligations for pre-treatment as part of that process. And having a pre-treatment plant that can meet the capabilities of a production plant is one of those elements,” he explained.

City Taxpayers Could Pay the Price

“Ultimately, it’s the city’s plant, the city’s SPDES permit and the city’s taxpayers who are at risk if the DEC issues an order of consent with violations because the plant does not operate property (due to the DO levels). From that standpoint … the city is doing and continues to do everything it possibly can.”

Van Nest responded to questions from Council members about the projected time for the problem to be rectified but stating that he would not speculate – only deal with the situation at hand.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said O-At-Ka’s current discharge levels are within “100 either way, up or down.”

She also noted that the bad smell coming from the plant has been alleviated.

“Since we issued the cease and desist order, we have not had very high strength waste coming through the system … that I’m aware of and the smells at the central pump station have not been strong,” she said.

Tabelski said it was her opinion that high strength waste from industrial users can cause strong odors at the plant.

She then thanked O-At-Ka for its cooperation as the city works to resolve the oxygen levels at the ponds.

“I will give O-At-Ka all the credit for all the effort you are taking in a very difficult time to haul your waste and get closer to your permitted level,” she said, looking at Gould as she spoke.


Photo at top: Milk processing at O-At-Ka Milk Products (from company website). File photo at bottom by Howard Owens: The ponds at the City of Batavia Waste Water Treatment Plant.

DSS Director of Services moved by 'amazing generosity' of local businesses & employees at a 'very difficult' time

By Press Release

Photos and information from Ben Dennis, director of Services, GC Department of Social Services:

There's an amazing generosity in the people and businesses that exist in this community. Each year, I am contacted by local businesses who want to be able to help their fellow citizens by sponsoring a family for the Holidays.

These businesses are really amazing -- how they come through with gifts for the kids and the parents who ordinarily could not afford to have a nice Christmas.

This year, the employees at O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative, Inc., and Tonawanda Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) and Tompkins Bank of Castile (408 E. Main St.), each separately reached out to me and sponsored a separate family.

The employees themselves did all the shopping and wrapping of the gifts for each member of the family they sponsored.

Last week, the DSS caseworkers delivered the gifts to the families and they are overjoyed and incredibly grateful for the donations.

Times are very difficult right now for many families trying to make ends meet.

We have hard-working people that have had to quit their job in order to stay home and help their children with their remote school work, or we had folks who were laid off due to business closures or downsizing.

"I have to say that the way that this community comes together in a time of need is really heartwarming to me personally," Dennis said. "This community is really amazing."

Schumer to Feds: Level the playing field and help NY dairy farmers churn up & milk profits before it’s too 'lait'

By Billie Owens

Press release:

After fiercely advocating for federal aid to New York’s dairy farmers in the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today urged United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer to quickly raise concerns about Canada evading its commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Canada agree to eliminate harmful dairy trade practices, including its Class 7 pricing program (Class 6 in Ontario) and lack of transparency in milk-pricing regulations. Both were explicitly addressed in the agreement, which enters into force next week on July 1.

“New York’s dairy farmers are the lifeblood of the Upstate economy, but unfortunately, they have been squeezed by the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis,” Senator Schumer said. “That is why I am calling on Ambassador Lighthizer to do everything in his power to ensure that Canada abides by its dairy trade obligations and eliminates its unfair and harmful pricing programs and practices that unfairly impeded Upstate New York dairy farmers from freely selling their product – as agreed to in the new trade agreement with Canada, the USMCA.

As the trade deal enters into force next week, it is imperative that our New York dairy farmers are able to sell their products into Canada and churn up profits that mitigate the huge losses they have suffered this year.”

“USMCA requires Canada to provide new market access for American dairy products and to eliminate its destructive Classes 6 and 7 milk pricing schemes,” said Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for Policy Strategy and International Trade with the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “While not unexpected, Canada’s efforts to manipulate its agreed upon trade obligations to protect its tightly controlled dairy market are unacceptable.

"Canada needs to live up to the commitments it made to the U.S. on dairy. America’s dairy industry appreciates Senator Schumer for his leadership on this issue and we support Ambassador Lighthizer and Secretary Purdue as the U.S. works to hold Canada accountable to its commitments under USMCA.”

“Cayuga Milk Ingredients applauds the efforts of New York’s Senator Schumer for raising concerns over Canada’s recent request for dairy pricing secrecy within the Ontario Provincial Tribunal and their most recent administration of TRQs," said Kevin J. Ellis, CEO Cayuga Milk Ingredients. "On both issues, Canada is showing they have no desire to act in good faith with respect to the trade commitments they made underneath USMCA.

"Cayuga Milk Ingredients suffered a loss of nearly $24 million of sales in 2016 when Canada implemented a National Class 7 pricing scheme that was specifically and intentionally designed to stop the importation of ultra-filtered milk. Based on these latest events, it appears Canada cannot be trusted to honor its trade commitments with the United States,”

Craig Alexander, senior director, Milk Planning and Regulatory Affairs at O-AT-KA Milk Products in Batavia, said, “A foundation principle of the new USMCA pertaining to Canada was transparency of pricing formulation and the elimination of its Class 7 pricing. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for Canada to live up to its commitments in this agreement.

"Canada should not obscure information on pricing now in order to artificially create a pricing environment that will keep us at a disadvantage once these USMCA provisions go into force. Furthermore, Canada’s implementation of TRQs negotiated as part of USMCA and reserving increased access almost entirely to existing Canadian dairy companies is evidence that Canada has not changed its past history of circumventing trade agreements.

"If Canada simply held up their end of the deal on eliminating Class 7 and fair implementation of TRQs, we could again get a fair shake at the opportunities to serve the Canadian market going forward.”

Schumer explained that under USMCA, Canada agreed to eliminate Class 6 & 7 pricing within six months. However, the Senator revealed, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), which represents approximately 4,000 Canadian dairy farmers, has recently requested that Ontario’s tribunal, which provides an avenue of appeal on agriculture issues, grant restricted access to DFO’s pricing regulations.

Schumer argued that with only a few days left until the USMCA is set to enter into force, the lack of transparency and timing of DFO’s request raises questions about whether or not Canada is seeking to circumvent its dairy commitments in USMCA.

Additionally, Schumer pointed out, under USMCA, Canada agreed to an expansion of tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for several categories of U.S. dairy products. However, the U.S. dairy industry has raised concerns that Canada’s recently released TRQ allocations weaken the intent of USMCA and will prevent New York dairy farmers from fully benefiting from the agreement’s expanded market access opportunities.

Employees at O-AT-KA expressing concern about protection from COVID-19

By Howard B. Owens


Employees, and their family members, of O-AT-KA Milk Products have been expressing concern this week about how the company has responded to the outbreak of COVID-19 in our community.

In emails to The Batavian and in social media posts, both employees and family members have accused the company of making employees work even though they might have been exposed to a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.

In the past week, Genesee County has gone from 17 confirmed cases to 70 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. In that same period, surrounding rural counties have not seen a similar spike.

It's unclear how much of the more than 400-percent increase in positive cases are connected with O-AT-KA but sources have indicated as many as 20 people who work at the facility have tested positive.

O-AT-KA CEO William Schreiber declined today to answer a question about how many employees have been infected.

At the beginning of the week, the Health Department reported the first sharp increase in cases -- 10 new cases -- and the department press release said many of the cases, including a big jump in mandatory quarantines, could be attributed to one employee going to work while symptomatic.

At that time, Public Health Director Paul Pettit said, "A significant increase in the number of mandatory quarantines being reported today is due to a symptomatic person going to work at a local business."

Pettit declined to name the company then nor discuss now specific complaints from employees about O-AT-KA.

Since Monday, the Health Department has indicated that several of the people who were on mandatory quarantine as of Monday have since tested positive.

Two sources said there were two confirmed COVID-19 cases at O-AT-KA on Monday.

The specific complaints sent to The Batavian about O-AT-KA:

  • Employees with direct contact with infected coworkers have been told to report to work until they develop a fever;
  • Employees with a fever are required to produce a doctor's note for an approved absence from work;
  • Employees are told to wear masks but masks are not issued to employees;
  • Employees are encouraged to remain six feet apart but some job duties, such as training new coworkers, make that impossible.

One of the features of the virus SARS-CoV-2 is that people can be infectious before becoming symptomatic, and perhaps remain asymptomatic, and a fever is not necessarily the first symptom of illness.

During a phone call today, we asked Schreiber repeatedly to respond to these specific allegations and he declined.

He did read a prepared statement:

We have taken every precaution to protect our employees. We have followed the guidelines of every regulatory agency involved since the start of the pandemic and most importantly, as part of our response, our leadership team has worked to ensure our employees are safe and that they have the tools and resources needed to be successful.

O-AT-KA is not the only local company under scrutiny from employees. The Batavian has received emails about two other local employers, deemed essential businesses by the State of New York, that say their bosses are not taking coronavirus precautions seriously. 

One employee, who said the employees' complaints have gone to the Attorney General's Office, was specific about lack of sanitizer, personal protection gear, and inattention to social distancing.

The employee said, "With the number of people that come to work at this plant from outside counties and cities, it is only a matter of time before someone infected comes to work and it will spread like wildfire. We should be closed right now. We should be home, safe with our families until our government deems it that we are safe to go back to work."


Ag trade deal with Canada and Mexico to expand market for local dairy, wine, eggs and more

By Billie Owens

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement today (Jan. 29) after President Donald J. Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“Today is a good day for American agriculture," Perdue said. "Throughout this process, there were many detractors who said it couldn’t be done. But this is further proof that President Trump’s trade negotiation strategy is working. This agreement shows the rest of the world the United States is open for business.

"USMCA is critical for America’s farmers and ranchers, who will now have even more market access to our neighbors to the north and the south. I am excited to see the economic benefits of this agreement increase the prosperity of all Americans, especially those living in rural America."

Background about the USMCA

It will advance United States agricultural interests in two of the most important markets for American farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses. This high-standard agreement builds upon our existing markets to expand United States food and agricultural exports and support food processing and rural jobs.

Canada and Mexico are our first and second largest export markets for United States food and agricultural products, totaling more than $39.7 billion food and agricultural exports in 2018. These exports support more than 325,000 American jobs.

All food and agricultural products that have zero tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will remain at zero tariffs. Since the original NAFTA did not eliminate all tariffs on agricultural trade between the United States and Canada, the USMCA will create new market access opportunities for United States exports to Canada of dairy, poultry, and eggs, and in exchange the United States will provide new access to Canada for some dairy, peanut, and a limited amount of sugar and sugar-containing products

Earlier this year, nearly 1,000 American food and agriculure associations and companies announced their support for USMCA and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture signed a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to ratify USMCA.*

In September, all former U.S. secretaries of Agriculture since President Reagan’s Administration announced support for USMCA. In a letter to Congessional leaders, former Secretaries John Block (Reagan), Mike Espy (Clinton), Dan Glickman (Clinton), Ann Veneman (W. Bush), Mike Johanns (W. Bush), Ed Shafer (W. Bush), and Tom Vilsack (Obama) underscored the importance of passing USMCA saying:

“We need a strong and reliable trade deal with our top two customers for U.S. agriculture products. USMCA will provide certainty in the North American market for the U.S. farm sector and rural economy. We strongly support ratification of USMCA.”

Key Provision: Increasing Dairy Market Access

  • America’s dairy farmers will have expanded market opportunities in Canada for a wide variety of dairy products. Canada agreed to eliminate the unfair Class 6 and Class 7 milk pricing programs that allowed their farmers to undersell U.S. producers.

Key Provision: Biotechnology

  • For the first time, the agreement specifically addresses agricultural biotechnology – including new technologies such as gene editing – to support innovation and reduce trade-distorting policies.

Key Provision: Geographical Indications

  • The agreement institutes a more rigorous process for establishing geographical indicators and lays out additional factors to be considered in determining whether a term is a common name.

Key Provision: Sanitary/Phytosanitary Measures

  • The three countries agree to strengthen disciplines for science-based measures that protect human, animal, and plant health while improving the flow of trade.

Key Provision: Poultry and Eggs

  • U.S. poultry producers will have expanded access to Canada for chicken, turkey, and eggs.

Key Provision: Wheat

  • Canada agrees to terminate its discriminatory wheat grading system, enabling U.S. growers to be more competitive.

Key Provision: Wine and Spirits

  • The three countries agree to avoid technical barriers to trade through non-discrimination and transparency regarding sale, distribution, labeling, and certification of wine and distilled spirits.

* Signatories included: Batavia-based O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative; Upstate Niagara Cooperative; New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association; New York Farm Bureau; New York Pork Producers Co-Op; and the New York Apple Association.

Video: 30th Annual Decision Makers Ag Tour visits local wineries and cideries

By Howard B. Owens
Video Sponsor
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For the 30th year in a row, the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, along with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Genesee County Farm Bureau, and the Soil & Water Conservation District conducted the Decision Makers Ag Tour.

The tour started off at the fairgrounds with a talk by Bill Schreiber, CEO of O-AT-KA Milk Products Co-Operative Inc. Then the group visited Autumn Moon Farm Winery, Black Creek Cidery, and Sweet Life Country Store, which included representatives from Circle B Winery.

O-AT-KA Milk announces 40 job openings

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

O-AT-KA Milk Products, of Batavia, is proud to announce the completion of its recent 20,000- square-foot building expansion. The walls are up and the equipment is installed, but the most important piece – the people – is the final stage of the project.

The expansion, nicknamed Project Gator, is the third of its kind in the past six years and will boost O-AT-KA’s current workforce of 440 employees, as promised during the planning phase. Support from local municipalities, the Genesee County Economic Development Center and Empire State Development made the expansion a reality.

“I am so pleased to see a great hometown company like O-AT-KA continue to grow, thrive and add 40 new jobs to be filled by local residents," said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia). "Our area is primed for growth and it makes us a stronger community to witness a commitment like this from a great homegrown company like O-AT-KA.

"New York’s agricultural industry is one of the best in the country and that is a testament to the dedicated and innovative farmers and dairy producers we have right here in Western New York. I wish O-AT-KA the best of luck and success moving forward.”

The expansion has significantly expanded O-AT-KA’s beverage capabilities and ability to meet growing customer demand. Production and packaging lines are currently undergoing thorough quality testing before full production starts early this fall.

“The work we do matters," said CEO Bill Schreiber. "We partner with our customers to create unique products while adding value to local milk. The ongoing efforts of our team have resulted in sustained growth and investment for the business, while supporting our dairy farmer owners and creating a rewarding work environment for our employees.

"New employees have an immediate opportunity to succeed and learn new skills. They also have the opportunity to grow as individuals and be part of a winning team.”

Hiring has begun, with the intention to fill 40 additional jobs immediately.

"We’ve grown by more than 150 team members since 2015. We plan to hire and train an additional 40 individuals," said Donna Maxwell, VP of Human Resources. “The work we do here serves our farmer-owners and supports local agriculture. We’re looking for people with a farmer’s work ethic; people who take pride in their work.

"As a premier employer in Western New York, we offer an outstanding compensation and benefits package along with the opportunity for career growth for those who desire it. Our Pay for Skill program allows employees who learn more to earn more. In fact, many of our employees – about 40 percent – commute from outside Genesee County because the employment package O-AT-KA has to offer -- pay, benefits and career opportunity -- just can’t be beat.”

Sen. Schumer and Speaker Ryan join forces to protect O-AT-KA, and work to undo Canada's dairy trade barriers

By Billie Owens
Press release:
U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer announced today that he is working directly with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senator Tammy Baldwin(D-WI) to urge U.S. trade officials to secure a level playing field with Canadian producers during the renegotiation of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
According to Schumer, in recent years, Canada has established dairy pricing policies and has maintained high tariffs that have effectively created a “Dairy Wall” stopping most U.S. dairy products from accessing Canadian markets and distorting global trade. Dairy farmers and producers, like O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative Inc. in Batavia, Cayuga Milk Ingredients in Cayuga County and dairy producers in Wisconsin, have been severely hurt by Canada’s manipulative trade practices and it will only get worse without action.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) from Wisconsin has also been a leader on lowering Canada’s dairy trade barriers, working closely with Senator Schumer.
“With Speaker Ryan’s and Senator Baldwin’s help, we now have a real opportunity to churn the tide and hopefully fix the unfair Canadian dairy trade barriers that have plagued dairy farmers and producers from the Finger-Lakes to Central New York to Wisconsin,” said Senate Democratic Leader Schumer.
“Our hardworking New York dairy farmers and producers across Upstate New York are the most competitive in the world, but they depend on stable and fair rules to compete in a global economy, to sell their dairy products, expand their business and create new local jobs – and right now, for dairy, Canada is erecting unfair barriers and not playing by the rules and the current NAFTA renegotiation must be used to rectify that.”
Schumer explained Canada has an unfair advantage over New York dairy farmers and producers. In addition to Canada’s 270 percent tariff on milk, a program called the “Class 7” pricing program, a market-distorting supply management system, has caused severe pain to New York dairy producers since it came into force last year.
In fact, Canada has used the Class 7 program to triple its milk powder exports in the past year by creating excess milk production capacity within Canada, then dumping the resulting milk powder onto world markets. To further prove this dumping exists, Schumer added that Canada’s dairy farmers are some of the highest paid in the world, yet Canadian dairy companies are still able to be among the lowest cost sellers of Class 7 products globally.
As U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade officials are closing in on a deal to revamp North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Schumer said working with Senator Baldwin and Speaker Ryan – who represents many dairy farmers and producers in their own state, represents a real opportunity to finally dismantle Canada’s market-distorting policies and ensure a level playing field for American dairy farmers and producers.
Schumer continued: “As trade officials near a deal to renegotiate NAFTA – a bipartisan issue President Trump, Senator Baldwin, Speaker Ryan and I agree on – we must make it a top priority to begin reversing restrictive dairy pricing policies in Canada that are hurting our dairy producers at their core, and now is a real opportunity to do just that.”
Schumer said that he has directly stressed the importance of securing meaningful changes in our dairy trade relationship with Canada to past and current administration officials, including President Trump, current United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton, and the U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft -- who have all committed to address this issue.

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