Dairy Fresh consolidating Baker milk bottling into Lafayette

Dairy Fresh, which has operated a milk bottling plant in Baker since 1985, plans to close the Plank Road facility in mid-November, a move that will affect about 40 employees as the company consolidates its operations into its Lafayette bottling facility.

Fred Stern, a spokesman for Borden Dairy, which bought Dairy Fresh in about 2009, said the decision to consolidate operations in Lafayette was made to improve operating efficiencies and enhance competitiveness.

“This has been a difficult decision,” Borden said in a statement distributed by Stern. “We are committed to working hard to lessen the impact on affected employees and will be offering a severance package for those employees who remain with the company until the plant closes.”

No decision has been made yet as to what will happen to the Baker facility.

Stern said Borden is talking to farmers who provided raw milk to the Baker plant.

Dairy Fresh and Borden milk will continue to be available through local grocery stores, Stern said.

This is the second Louisiana dairy plant to shut down in 2013. The Oak Farms Dairy in Shreveport closed in late May, a move that put 170 people out of work.

Jeff Kleinpeter, president of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, said his company is looking to hire at least “six to eight” employees from Dairy Fresh. “We’re in the beginning stages,” he said.

Kleinpeter said more employees will be needed because his company is looking to expand its distribution in the wake of Dairy Fresh’s layoffs. He said some of the independent farmers who sold milk to Dairy Fresh are expected to start distributing through Kleinpeter.

“We’re hoping they can help us expand our base,” he said.

The closings of Oak Farms and Dairy Fresh show how tough things have been for the dairy industry, which has been hit with rising feed prices.

“This is somewhat of a shock year,” Kleinpeter said. “Things are tight for everybody. But we’re keeping our chin up and moving forward.”