EVART — Only weeks after Dean Foods laid off 45 employees at its Liberty Dairy milk production plant, the Dallas-based corporation announced it has plans to cut more jobs this year and cease operations at the Evart facility in early 2013.

Dean Foods released a statement on Monday stating that it will cut 54 jobs at the Evart facility by November. Following the announced cuts, the plant will employ about 60 people.

Corporate officials anticipate the company can only maintain one shift of production volume at the plant until February 2013, after which time the plant likely will cease production and operate solely as a distribution branch.

“We sincerely regret this difficult decision and the impact it will have on our dedicated employees and the community of Evart,” said Gregg Tanner, president of the company’s Fresh Dairy Direct business and chief supply chain officer for Dean Foods. “We worked with our customer to delay the totality of the changes until early next year, with the goal of providing our employees as much time as possible to transition into new jobs. By early next year, however, we anticipate it will no longer be economically viable to operate the Evart plant, and we are significantly reducing the plant’s production this year. We are committed to assisting our employees through this transition. We have worked with the union to provide compensation for our represented employees through our bargaining agreements, and will also provide severance benefits for our non-union employees.”

Dean Foods issued WARN notices to the business agent of Teamsters Local 406, other employees and state and local government officials related to the cuts. The company will cut production and distribution employees represented by Teamsters Local 406, as well as several non-union and management level employees.

The WARN Act requires companies to give 60 days’ notice of significant job losses that affect more than 50 people at one time if the total impacted is more than one-third of the workforce.

The cuts come as a result of significant volume losses, and expected continued losses.

Liberty Dairy’s largest customer – Meijer Inc. – announced in March it’s acquisition of a dairy facility in Holland with plans to sell a new brand of dairy products: the Purple Cow Creamery brand. The white and chocolate milk will be sold in gallon and half-gallon sizes in the 101 Meijer stores in Michigan.

The move would take away some 90 percent of business at the Evart dairy, which has been a major Osceola County employer for generations. In 1928, the plant became Liberty Dairy and in 2001 the operation was purchased by Dallas-based company Suiza Dairy but retained its name.

“The job cuts are occurring due the fact that a large customer representing more than 90 percent of the Evart plant’s production volume has terminated its production needs at Evart and is integrating milk processing and distribution into its operations,” according to the statement.

Al Weinberg, director of the Evart Downtown Development Authority, was sad to hear the announcement, but encouraged the employees of Liberty Dairy to remain strong and continue moving forward.

“This is very sad news for the City of Evart, but I'm grateful for Dean Foods for how they've been a part of our community for all these years,” Weinberg said. "We are going to move forward. We are always looking for the next opportunity to bring more business and infrastructure to town. ... My heart goes out to the families that this affects and the kids in our community. We’re hoping and praying that something will happen for these folks to regain employment.”