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November 22, 2021 - 4:39pm

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 has 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

March 2, 2019 - 8:11pm
posted by Billie Owens in news, business, batavia, notify, upstate niagara, ag park.

An executive with Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc. announced that it has signed a purchase agreement to buy the Alpina Foods plant in Batavia.

Larry Webster, chief executive officer of Upstate Niagara, broke the news at tonight's Genesee County Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony at Quality Inn & Suites in Batavia.

The Alpina plant is located in the Genesee Valley Agri-business park at 5140 Ag Park Drive West. The plant operated by the yogurt maker closed in January.

UPDATE 10:20 p.m. (by Howard): After tonight's Chamber awards, Webster said Upstate's immediate plans for the former Alpina plant aren't settled but that acquiring an ultramodern dairy-processing facility in a strong milk shed where Upstate has been looking to expand was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

"The way I termed it, it's the farm next door," Webster said. "When it came up for sale we were looking to expand and so it just kind all worked out well."

The plant represents a $60 million investment by Alpina, a Colombia-based company that attempted to crack the U.S. greek-yogurt market by opening the plant in the Genesee Valley Ag-Business Park five years ago. Webster said Upstate will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of the $20 million to $25 million asking price on the plant but said he wasn't ready to disclose the purchase price.

"We just knew that it was an opportunity to pick up a production-ready plant in our area and so we did," Webster said. "We're not 100-percent sure exactly what we're going to do there yet."

The plant will be filled, Webster said and he expects that the plant is ready to employ 40 to 60 people, and more if the plant expands. Part of what attracted Upstate to the property is that while the plant sits on a 10-acre parcel, there is a 10-acre parcel next to it that is vacant but is included with the purchase.

"That makes room for expansion, which we were interested in," Webster said. "It's in the right place at the right time and ready to go. We've got some customers that we think could fit in there quite well and we could utilize it fairly quickly."

Frequently, Upstate operates on a co-packing basis with clients who need a production facility for their dairy-product brands. Webster indicated he expects that's how the former Alpina plant will be used.

The purchase offer was signed Thursday and is contingent on a due-diligence process but Webster didn't expect any issues to arise before the acquisition is final.

The project will likely also be eligible for an incentive package from the Genesee County Economic Development Center, which also provided more than $700,000 to Alpina to build and expand the plant, according to a source who was at Saturday's dinner. The scope and nature of the incentive package has not yet been settled on. 

When Massachusetts-based HP Hood bought the former Muller Quaker plant, which is also in the ag park, it also negotiated an updated tax-abatement package with GCEDC.

Webster said he doesn't expect Upstate will follow the example of Dairy Farmers of America, which purchased the former Muller Quaker plant across the street and flipped it to HP Hood a year later without ever producing any product at the plant.

"That's not in our plans at all," Webster said. "We bought it for our use and our history is just that. We've been operating plants for quite awhile and didn't buy it because we thought it was cheap and we could turn around and resell it or anything like that. We felt we paid a fair price for it but it's for our use."

March 1, 2019 - 11:38am
posted by Virginia Kropf in Chamber Awards, business, agriculture, upstate niagara.

Editor's note: The  2018 Genesee County Chamber of Commerce Awards banquet will be held Saturday, March 2, at the Quality Inn & Suites in Batavia.

Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc., a dairy cooperative owned by 340 farm families located throughout Western New York, will be honored March 2 as the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce’s Agricultural Organization of the Year.

“On behalf of our member-owners, especially those located in Genesee County, we are honored to be presented with this award by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce,” said Keith Telaak, senior marketing manager of Upstate Niagara Cooperative. “We are grateful of this recognition and are proud to be a part of the Genesee County community.”

Upstate Niagara Cooperative is a result of several mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations of local dairy processors over the past 100 years, as dairy farmers realized the need for increased efficiencies to be able to grow their businesses and compete in the changing marketplace, Telaak said.

In 2006 Upstate Farms Cooperative and Niagara Milk Cooperative consolidated, bringing together two of the nation’s top dairy cooperatives. Its history, however, goes back even further.

Some of Upstate Niagara Cooperative’s family-owned farms have been in existence for more than six generations, according to Telaak.

The cooperative operates seven manufacturing facilities – three fluid plants (Buffalo, Rochester and Williamsport, Pa.), with their main office in Buffalo; two cultured facilities (West Seneca and North Lawrence); one cheese plant in Campbell; and O-AT-KA Milk Products in Batavia. The Membership Office is also located in Batavia, Telaak added. 

“Our mission is to serve each one of our customers the highest quality dairy products and services, in order to market milk and maximize returns for our dairy farmer owners, while providing a rewarding environment for our employees,” Telaak said.

“Our commitment to quality dairy products extends to every stage of production, from the farm to the consumer. The success of our cooperative begins with the passion and dedication of our farmer-owners to work hard every single day to produce the highest quality milk.”

Upstate Niagara’s high-quality dairy products have earned several first-place awards at dairy competitions, including their Bison French Onion Dip and light sour cream. They are marketed to consumers throughout the country.

Their products include milk, flavored milk, yogurt, dip, sour cream, cheese and ice cream marketed under the Upstate Farms, Valley Farms; Intense Milk for consumers looking for a healthier way to indulge; Bison; and Milk for Life. 

“We are also a private label manufacturer of dairy products for many of the largest retailers throughout the country,” Telaak said. 

Today, Upstate Niagara employs more than 1,400 people in their offices, manufacturing facilities and distribution network. 

Batavia was chosen as the site for the Membership Office because of its central location to member farmers in Western New York, Telaak said. Mike Davis is plant manager of the Batavia plant.

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