The state’s dairies produce only about 35 percent of the milk consumed by South Carolinians, meaning most of the product must be imported.
In order to meet the demands, the Wateree River Correctional Institution is building a new state-of -the-art dairy to be operated by prison inmates. The new dairy is being built for $7 million and is scheduled to begin operations in January. The facility will boost milk production from 500,000 gallons annually to 2.3 million gallons and at full capacity, the dairy will be able to produce 1.8 million gallons of excess milk to be sold on the open market.
Corrections Director Jon Ozmint says the state legislature is supportive, especially because the project uses no tax dollars.
We’ve taken the farm from a net loss to a profit center, and in addition to keeping our food cost the lowest in the nation. So,they’ve been real supportive on things that will make us more efficient to the extent that they’ve had the funding to do so. This didn’t really involve any state funding. We borrowed the money to do this and we’re going to pay it back from a bank loan like anybody else, which is what we did with the dairy.
Ozmint says the dairy farm will rev up milk production and create savings for the department. “It will make our farm a profit center in addition to keeping our food costs the lowest in the nation,” he says.
The goal is to pay back the ten-year loan ahead of schedule as the department did with their egg farm expansion. Ozmint says they can do likewise with the new dairy farm loan:
Now, all the excess eggs we produce are being sold on the open market, no competition to the South Carolina egg farmers, because there aren’t as many egg farmers that produce as many eggs as we do, or that produce enough eggs to feed our system – to feed out 25,000 inmates every day. So, we ended up paying that back and making money on that operation a lot quicker than we anticipated. We’ll be conservative in our estimates and say the payback will be five to 10 years, but the payback will probably be a lot quicker than that.
Ozmint says they’ve tried to constantly evaluate every part of their operation to determine whether or not it is being profitable: “When I got here we were still in the hog business, in the pig business. That didn’t work out for us. We were losing money some years, losing money more years that we were making money. So we just got out of that.”
The milk will be served to the inmates and will be imported. The new facility will house up to 1,000 cows and will be equipped with fans and water to keep the animals cool enough to produce milk.