Milk co-op solicits bids for property

The association has made no decision on whether to sell 220-acre tract in Laurel


An expansive section of prime real estate in Laurel may be sold by a cooperative that has owned the land for at least three decades.

Bids for the property have been solicited by the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, which markets milk for 1,500 dairy farmers.

No decision has been reached on whether to sell, and there is no time schedule for one, said Amber DuMont, the cooperative's manager of communication and education.

"In the past few months, our board has welcomed interest in our Laurel property, and they are entertaining bids," she said.

The property is in an attractive location between the Baltimore and Washington markets, near major transportation corridors, and within the county's public water and sewer boundaries. It could be developed in a variety of ways.

The land includes a large processing plant, but much of the 220 acres is undeveloped. It is bounded by Leishear Road and Gorman Road, not far from the recently expanded Route 216.

The property is between two planned communities - Maple Lawn Maryland and Emerson - and close to Interstate 95, Route 216 and U.S. 29.

"It is the largest single block of appropriately zoned, undeveloped property in Howard County," said Richard W. Story, chief executive of the county's Economic Development Authority.

If the cooperative sells the plant, the sale would reflect profound industry changes, which have included suppressed milk prices, oversupply and a sharp decline in the number of dairy farms over the past several years.

The plant's closure also would be a twist. Dryer's Grand Ice Cream Holding Inc. next year will complete a $180 million expansion of its Laurel plant - tripling its production capacity and becoming the county's largest manufacturer.

Buys Pa. milk

Dryer's, however, purchases its milk from a cooperative in Pennsylvania.

In land-starved Howard County, Story said, many developers would find the property irresistible.

It is zoned as an employment district, which would permit a variety of businesses, including warehouses, truck terminals, and commercial office and retail space.

If the land were rezoned, home builders would pay top dollar to acquire it because parcels for subdivisions are in short supply, Story said.

"It is in the water-and-sewer area. This is where you would put development," he said.

Formed 85 years ago

The cooperative was formed 85 years ago and is based in Reston, Va. It markets milk for dairy farmers in 11 states.

The Laurel facility - known as a "balancing plant" - handles surplus milk. Butter, condensed milk and nonfat dry milk powder are produced there, according to the cooperative. Those ingredients are marketed to food companies that make products such as infant formula, ice cream, candy and bakery goods, DuMont said.

She said the cooperative also operates a plant in Strasburg, Va., which produces the same ingredients. The co- operative, she said, is trying to determine whether having two balancing plants on the East Coast is excessive.

`Rule of thumb'

"The rule of thumb is to have the plant where there is surplus milk," DuMont said. "There are fewer and fewer dairies. ... The whole industry has a need for less capacity."

Once there were dozens of dairy farms in Howard County, Story said. Today, there are three.

"That is one of the trends that's in play here," he said.

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