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Sheldon Silver Wants New York to Become 'Yogurt Capital' of the World

By Jill Colvin | August 15, 2012 4:35pm

NEW YORK CITY — Albany got an infusion of culture Wednesday, as officials, farmers and food producers gathered for the very first official “yogurt summit” in New York State.

New York has increasingly become a hotspot for yogurt production — especially the thicker, Greek variety, which has become one of the hottest food trends of the year.

“There is no reason why we cannot make New York the capital of the yogurt industry in the United States, if not the world,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off the session, where producers and farmers shared ideas about how to help its growth.

Cuomo said New York is now home to 29 yogurt plants — twice as many as in 2000 — including the most famous, Chobani yogurt, which recently opened an upscale “yogurt bar” in SoHo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the yogurt forum in Albany on Wed.,, Aug. 15.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the yogurt forum in Albany on Wed.,, Aug. 15.
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“The numbers on yogurt production are staggering,” he said, noting that the state is already producing half a billion pounds a year.

But the boom has also been a challenge for the dairy industry, which has been struggling to keep up with demand. Chobani alone uses 4 million pounds of milk a day to produce its Greek yogurt, a rep said — about three times as much as the traditional variety of the dessert.

"Our cows are working overtime," State Sen. James Seward, who represents dairy country, said.

To help boost production, Cuomo announced plans Wednesday to loosen restrictions on dairy farmers by increasing from 200 to 300 the number of cows that farmers can keep without needing pricey "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation" permits.

Complying with permit rules can cost farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it hard for small producers to expand herds, farmers, including Black Brook Farm’s Kerry Adams, complained.

The governor also announced plans for new incentives for farmers to increase the use of “anaerobic digesters,” which helps turn waste produced on farm — such as cow manure — into energy that farms can use.

But it's not just upstate that’s playing a role.

Fage Yogurt exec Robert Shea said the Mohawk Valley-based company actually has deep roots in the city’s Greek community in Queens.

After opening their first distribution office in Woodside, he said the team went door-to-door, visiting bodegas across Manhattan and encouraging them to stock the snack.

They now run a specialty plant in Johnstown, New York.