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Paynesville Press - January 12, 2005

AMPI to rebuild New Ulm plant

By Michael Jacobson

Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) will rebuild its butter processing and packaging plant at its current site in New Ulm, cooperative officials announced on Monday, Jan. 10. Planning to restore the manufacturing facility damaged in a December fire is underway and construction could begin this spring.

"Though AMPI personnel continue to evaluate the plant and equipment damaged by the fire, early assessments indicate reconstruction is feasible," general manager Mark Furth said. "This may be an opportunity to improve our farmer-owned business."

AMPI is a dairy marketing cooperative of 5,000 members who annually market five billion pounds of milk with $1 billion in sales. Members operate dairy farms located throughout the midwest states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, and North Dakota. AMPI has 13 manufacturing plants - including a cheese plant in Paynesville - and markets a full line of consumer-packaged dairy products.

The New Ulm plant has long been AMPI's only butter-churning and packaging facility. Cream produced by AMPI members from throughout the midwest is churned into butter and packaged at the New Ulm facility.

Many of the 130 AMPI butter plant employees who were idled by the fire will return to work as interim production progresses. More than half of the employees have already been helping with plant cleanup.

Insurance will cover most of the structural and equipment damage, as well as the loss of nearly three million pounds of butter that was in the plant at the time of the fire. Full recovery of the butter processing and packaging plant, however, may depend upon the assistance offered by local, state, and federal representatives following the fire, Furth said.

Some of the butter processing and packaging equipment has already been recovered and moved to an area of the plant that did not sustain fire damage. Following equipment cleaning and refurbishing, inspection by regulatory officials, and trial runs, a limited amount of butter production has begun and will continue to increase through the reconstruction phase.

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