Letter to the Editor: Co-op buys milk for premium price

Farm Forum

I’m a farmer from Deuel County, S.D. Several months ago I had heard that some dairy farmers’ co-op was offering to buy milk just under $40/cwt. That seemed absurd. Today’s milk price hovers around $19/cwt. So I started checking into it. Here is what I learned:

• There is a bonafide dairy farmers’ co-op, out of Wisconsin, that is paying $36/hundred wt for grade A milk.

• Organic Valley Co-op buys, processes, and then markets organic milk and cheeses all over the U.S. They market through large and small chain stores, like HyVee.

• The demand for the organic milk and cheese continues to increase. All the organic milk is produced by smaller owner/operator dairy farms located in Wisconsin, west across Minnesota and now into South Dakota near Milbank.

• Organic Valley Co-op is looking for more organic milk producers to meet this growing demand for their products.

I was recently included in a small group that was invited to Organic Valley’s Regional meeting. We drove to Granite Falls, Minn., to observe and meet some of the dairy farmers. I talked with some of these producers. Here is what I was told:

• “Yes, we received $36/cwt for their organic milk this entire past year.”

• “Yes, we fed organic feed to their cows. No, it wasn’t a burden.”

• “No, our entire farming operation is not organic.”

When I asked, “Was it tough to become a certified organic milk producer?” They answered, “No, not really. The co-op really helps us meet the USDA Organic Certification requirements.” I asked, “Are you happy with this organic milk arrangement?” With a big smile, I heard a big resounding, “YES.”

I learned that only farm producers sit on the executive board. No feed reps, no store reps, no government reps, only USDA certified organic milk producers sit on Organic Valley’s Board. Farmers are in absolute and total control of all operations. PERIOD.

Is Organic Valley Co-op financially and operationally viable? The co-op got started in the 1980s when lots of farmers all over the country were in a tough financial spot. This past year Organic Valley Co-op gross sales was approximately $690 million with sales nation-wide.

The co-op is tentatively exploring other markets for farm products including market hogs, beef, eggs, and vegetable produce, all based on farmer inquiries.

Deuel County Chapter of Dakota Rural Action (DRA) is hosting an informational meeting in Clear Lake, 218 3rd Ave. South, Clear Lake, S.D., on Jan. 16 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to allow local South Dakota farmers to ask questions and consider the possible of becoming a organic dairy producers and join the Organic Valley’s dairy run already established and growing in South Dakota.

I think this is one farmers’ meeting you won’t want to miss. Deuel/Grant County Farmers Union is co-hosting this meeting alongside Organic Valley, and DRA. Coffee and lunch will be provided.