What began as an organic produce pool of farmers in the Coulee region of southwest Wisconsin has grown to become a member of the Top 100 Agricultural Cooperatives, and the largest organic marketing cooperative when farmers wanted something different than the market had to offer at that time. Exploratory meetings began in 1988 to discuss how they could market their production; organic produce, eggs and milk focusing on quality and sustainable farming practices. As part of development process of the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP) Cooperative, they developed a common set of standards and practices which later became the framework for USDA’s organic standards.
Within a year the market for organic dairy was selling at a premium, confirming consumers wanted quality organic food that is sustainably produced and were willing to pay for it. The co-op grew and it became evident that farmers outside of the Coulee region were interested in joining the cooperative, especially dairy farmers. The decision was made to add co-op members once demand could support the additional growth. The cooperative’s dairy production would include producers outside of the Coulee region and the brand name would need to reflect that change, thus Organic Valley was born.
With growth came a need for financing. In 2001 the First National Bank of Bangor (WI) used USDA Rural Development’s Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan program to provide a seven year term working capital loan for $4.2 million. In 2003, the lender again used the B&I Loan Guarantee program to provide $2.5 million in financing to construct a home office. The expansion saved 212 jobs and created 78 new jobs.
In celebrating National Cooperative Month, Rural Business Cooperative Services’ Deputy Administrator Mark Brodziski remarked: “It is amazing to see a cooperative business grow from eight initial producers to the Nation’s leading Organic Dairy Cooperative. We are glad that Rural Development could be a small part of assisting that growth and look forward to what the future holds.”
To learn more about the Cooperative Services Branch, visit their website.