In May, he retired as AMPI's Paynesville Division Manager. At the AMPI annual meeting in March, Gniffke received a standing ovation from the central Minnesota producers at the meeting.
"When I came to Paynesville, they were still making nonfat dry milk and butter," Gniffke said. "In those days, they took in only 200,000 pounds of milk per day from producers. Today that number has increased to 1.8 million." About 10 years ago, AMPI discontinued making butter and is strictly cheese since then.
Gniffke has watched dairy producers go from small family herds of 30 cows to milking herds ranging in size from 80 to 1,000 cows.
Gniffke was part of AMPI when it was established. He was working at a creamery in Wood Lake, Minn., when it became part of Five Star Dairy in 1960.
Managing the southwest area of Minnesota, Gniffke's responsibilities grew with the cooperative.
Gniffke worked about five years in Paynesville before becoming the procurement manager for AMPI's northern region, a position he held for nine years. While at the regional office, he also worked with mergers and creamery acquistions.
He returned to Paynesville in 1980. "There was too much traveling involved, working out of the regional office. I had to cover a seven-state area, thus the position involved a lot of flying time and time away from my family," he said. "The best part of the job was working with dairy producers to become part of this cooperative," he added.
Gniffke said he has seen a lot of changes made at AMPI and in regulations from the government. "There is a need for all the regulatory agencies. Today, the regulations are stricter than in 1964, especially in the food processing areas."
Among the changes Gniffke oversaw included the change over from nonfat dry milk production to cheese. "We never shut down the plant, we made changes to the east side, then when it was completed, work started on the other half of the plant," Gniffke said.
At Paynesville's AMPI plant, Gniffke oversees the 90 in-house employees and 16 independent truckers. He is also in charge of the Pelican Rapids operation. "I'm in Pelican Rapids twice a month, otherwise I manage the operation by phone from Paynesville," he said.
Gniffke said he has been blessed with good employees, dairy farmers, and milk haulers. "They are all a dedicated group," he added.
In his retirement, Gniffke will continue to keep busy doing consulting work at the corporate office in New Ulm. "I'll be pinch-hitting where needed," he said.
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