Leprino Foods Greeley, Colo., plant recognized for its focus on sustainability

The Greeley plant is built on an abandoned sugar-processing factory site, and is Leprino Foods’ newest facility.
Photo courtesy Leprino Foods Company

Leprino Foods Company in Greeley, Colo., has earned a 2020 sustainability award for its outstanding dairy processing and manufacturing, and has been recognized (as one of six dairy businesses across the U.S.) as a “technologically advanced and environmentally friendly dairy manufacturing facility improving the well-being of people, animals and the planet.”

Leprino, headquartered in Denver, is a global leader in the production of premium-quality cheese and dairy ingredients. The awards program, managed by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, was established under the leadership of dairy farmers, through their checkoff, and dairy companies.

Leprino’s employees are credited with earning this impressive award.

“We were very surprised and honored to have our employees’ hard work recognized by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Every employee has contributed to our success in both Greeley and across our operations — starting at the top. Our leadership is committed to global responsibility and reinforcing the importance of sustainability in how we operate, every day,” said Adam Wylie, associate director of environment and global responsibility at Leprino Foods. “We have worked diligently over the past several years, but our work isn’t done. We will continue to focus on sustainability as part of the core values and priorities of our company.”

The Greeley plant is built on an abandoned sugar-processing factory site, and is Leprino Foods’ newest facility. The company purchased the Greeley property in 2008, then began construction in 2010.

The plant has approximately 550 employees and produces mozzarella cheese, nonfat dry milk, and several nutrition ingredients including whey protein isolate, lactose, native whey and micellar casein.

“Leprino Foods is the largest producer of mozzarella cheese in the world and a leading manufacturer of lactose, whey protein and sweet whey,” said Leprino Foods Company President Mike Durkin. “Our commitment to sustainable operations allowed us to improve environmental performance while simultaneously reducing costs, enhancing worker safety, and benefiting the community.”


Leprino’s dairy plant was recognized for relying on a combined heat and power system generating electricity from two natural gas turbines which handle 75 percent of the plant’s power needs. The plant uses technology that pulls water from milk during the cheesemaking process to clean the facility, which reduces the need for fresh water. Leprino also uses recycled water that goes through treatment, resulting in feedstock for the plant’s anaerobic digester, which in turn creates renewable biogas. Leprino management said these projects add up to $4.5 million in estimated annual energy cost savings and provided a quick return on investment.

“Leprino’s Greeley cheese plant showcases how dairy processors are effectively taking action to drive environmental progress,” said Barb O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “It’s actions like this of dairy companies and farmers across the country that will help achieve dairy’s shared environmental goals to achieve carbon neutrality, optimize water use and recycling and improve water quality by 2050.”

But, as Wylie said, Leprino Foods continues investing in sustainable solutions, including:

• Wastewater solids digester and biogas cogeneration engine reducing solids by 40 percent and providing 25 percent of the electricity to the treatment plant.

• Energy savings of 5.5 million kWh per year from LED lighting, which equates to lighting nearly 500 homes for one year.

• Dual combined heat and power (CHP) system reducing greenhouse gases significantly. The CHP provides 12 megawatts of onsite electricity generation resulting in 10 percent company-wide GHG footprint reduction.

• Internal water reclamation and purification that maximizes efficient use. An additional 600,000 gallons of clean water is returned to the local river daily, enough to sustain approximately 2,000 households.

“These innovative applications of the latest technology enable the Greeley facility to significantly reduce operating costs and natural resource use, improve the safety and quality of lighting, and fulfill our responsibility to be stewards of precious and limited water,” Wylie said.


With its forward thinking technology, Leprino recommends its practices to others in the industry.

“Several of these projects, such as combined heat and power and LED lighting, can apply to nearly any kind of facility in nearly any location, depending on local conditions,” Wylie said. “Our wastewater solids digester and water recycling applications are somewhat novel and unique to dairy processing and therefore could and should be adopted by others. Perhaps the greatest service we can offer our industry peers is through the pathways we’re working on to make these technologies acceptable, and practical solutions within the regulatory structure of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), which is one of the regulatory structures that apply when processing fluid milk.”

Also, in 2019, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment‘s Environmental Leadership Program awarded Leprino’s Greeley plant with its 24-Karat Gold Award for extraordinary commitment to protecting the environment.

The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, made possible through sponsors, show appreciation to farmers, companies and organizations for their commitment to improving communities, the environment and their businesses. For this year’s awards, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy recognized DeLaval, Zoetis, Phibro Animal Health, Syngenta and USDA for their support.

These awards are held annually. The next call for entries will go out this fall. A farmer or company is nominated by someone, to become eligible. More than 70 U.S. dairy farms, businesses and collaborative partnerships have been honored since 2011.

“The program shines a light on the many ways our industry is leading the way to a more sustainable future,” said Dairy Management Inc. Executive Vice President of Global Environmental Strategy Krysta Harden, in a statement.

From using an anaerobic digester to make cow bedding and crop fertilizer out of cow manure to using no-till and strip cropping in the fields, Twin Birch Dairy of Skaneateles, N.Y., partnered with an environmental group to safeguard good water quality in New York’s Finger Lakes, and also earned a 2020 Sustainability Award.

Then, through genetics and breeding cows that live longer and are less susceptible to disease and illness, Rosy-Lane Holsteins of Watertown, Wis., earned a 2020 award for producing 70 more semi-tankers of milk a year; using the same inputs as other dairy farms.

An award also went to Oregon’s largest dairy farm; Three Mile Canyon Farms of Boardman, for its closed-loop system of mint harvest byproducts included in the cows’ feed, manure — used as fertilizer, and its methane digester that produces renewable natural gas.

When runoff and pollution from six states including Pennsylvania severely affected the Chesapeake Bay’s habitat, Turkey Hill Dairy of Pennsylvania partnered with local farms, the private and public sectors. That resulted in dairy farmers developing modern housing for cows, manure storage, tree planting, cover crops and nutrient management and improving the farms’ soil, the Chesapeake Bay, and earned a 2020 award.

The sixth dairy award went to Sustainable Conservation, Netafim, De Jager & McRee Dairies, Western United Dairies of California, who together developed a subsurface drip irrigation system so crops can benefit from manure’s nutrients, which are applied closer to the the plants rootzone for improved growth.

The awards are judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts. Among the criteria to apply is participation and good standing in the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program and use of the FARM Environmental Stewardship online tool for determining their GHG and energy footprint.

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— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at