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Dannon, dairy make smooth team





REXFORD -- His voice cracking with emotion, Ken McCarty was given the unenviable task of unveiling the first-in-the-nation partnership between Rexford's McCarty Dairy and food giant Dannon.

Unenviable only because he isn't a frequent public speaker.

"Welcome," he told the nearly 150 people huddled under a tent seeking a bit of shelter from the daunting wind. "This is my first speech since my sixth-grade graduation."

He, his brothers and his parents have come a long way since then, milking nearly 7,200 cows at dairies in Rexford, Bird City and Scott City, and just recently sealing a deal to become the sole supplier of milk for Dannon's yogurt factory in Fort Worth, Texas.

An on-site processing plant receives milk from all three dairies, pasteurizes it and essentially strips out the water in the milk.

The water -- roughly 40,000 gallons daily out of the 70,000 pounds of milk processed each day -- is reclaimed, becoming drinking water for cattle at Rexford. The dried milk then is reconstituted when it reaches Fort Worth, becoming the well-known Dannon yogurt.

It's a far cry from where McCarty Dairy was just 12 years ago, when family moved from Pennsylvania to the High Plains of Kansas. When they set down near Rexford, they were milking only 750 cows, said Tom McCarty, the patriarch of the family.

"It's the only one of its kind in North America," he said of the agreement between McCarty and Dannon, "which I didn't even know until the other day."

It's been a long process to get this far, Tom McCarty said, noting they started working on the project more than two years ago.

He wouldn't, however, give any hint on what the cost of the project might be.

"That's kind of a closely held secret," he said.

"This is a very emotional day for us," Ken McCarty told the group, which included Dannon officials, Gov. Sam Brownback and Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman.

"This is my first speech," Brownback said, pausing slightly, "since yesterday."

Yet he heralded the McCarty deal with Dannon.

"We are delighted to be here," Brownback said.

He said this is just the first step in Kansas becoming a big player in the dairy industry.

"We wanted to be a major animal state," Brownback said. "We are. We wanted to be a major dairy state. We are. We've got the water. We've got the productive land. We've got the wind."

His comment about the wind was in jest, although he was quick to say Kansas is leading the nation in terms of capital investments this year.

"We welcome Dannon to Kansas," he said.

A number of Dannon officials were on hand for the event, including Gustavo Valle, president and CEO of Dannon Co.

He and Judy McCarty, the matriarch of the McCarty family, joined with people attending to toast the partnership -- a toast appropriately made with milk in dozens of small Mason jars. Cookies soon followed.

"We can't thank everybody enough," an emotional Ken McCarty said. "Mom and Dad, thank you very much."