Wisconsin-based milk distributor Organic Valley has expanded its Maine supply network into Aroostook County and picked up half of the former MOO Milk organic dairy farms as suppliers, the company said Tuesday.
Organic Valley’s New England Pool manager, Steve Getz, said the decision to expand was inspired by a trip to Aroostook County, where he saw how advanced and productive its dairy farms are.
“When I got there, my eyes just about popped,” Getz said.
Along with the expansion into northern Maine, Organic Valley added to its cooperative two organic dairy farms in Aroostook County that had been partners in the now-defunct Maine’s Own Organic Milk, or MOO Milk: HB Farms and Chase’s Organic Dairy.
Getz said the cooperative does not plan to limit its Aroostook County suppliers to just two farms. Organic Valley is in discussions with other farms in The County, including three small Amish farms that he said are impressively advanced and efficient.
Organic Valley has a long and fruitful history with Amish farms, which supply about 35 percent of its milk nationwide, he said.
In all, the 26-year-old cooperative is made up of 1,500 farms and had total sales of $960 million in 2013. Organic Valley acts almost entirely as a wholesaler; it has no processing plants of its own except for a single butter-making facility, Getz said.
Chase’s co-owner Vaughn Chase said that after four years of uncertainty associated with the problem-ridden MOO Milk venture, he was relieved to join a financially stable but still farmer-owned operation such as Organic Valley.
“It’s a paycheck that you can count on week after week,” Chase said.
Getz said Organic Valley also has signed agreements with four other former MOO Milk producers: Webb Family Farm in Pittston, Two Loons Farm in South China, Clovercrest Farm in Charleston and Eagle View Farms in Dixfield.
While Organic Valley would have liked to make suppliers out of all 12 former MOO Milk dairies, Getz said, the remaining six were too far from the cooperative’s established hauling route to be financially feasible. A round trip to all 12 farms is about 1,200 miles, he said.
“I drove the MOO Milk milk route,” Getz said. “It’s a long, long route.”
The every-other-day trips to Aroostook County alone will force Organic Valley to exceed its regional hauling budget, he said. However, all 33 of the cooperative’s dairy farms in Maine have agreed unanimously to contribute 25 cents per hundredweight – about 12 gallons – of milk they sell to subsidize the extra hauling costs.
Jeff Bragg, co-owner of Rainbow Valley Farm in Sidney, a supplier to Organic Valley for the past 10 years, said the decision to subsidize the cost of hauling milk from other farms was partly philosophical and partly pragmatic.
Bragg said increasing Organic Valley’s supplier network will benefit the entire organic farming industry in Maine, because it creates a market for more farms and drives up overall demand.
“It’s a brotherhood thing, but it’s also a forward-looking thing,” he said.
The milk from the six former MOO Milk farms will go primarily to Stonyfield to use in its organic yogurt products, Getz said.