September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

CROPP celebrates 26 years in business

Organic co-op gained farmers, boosted sales to $929 million

By By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

LA CROSSE, Wis. - More than 500 farmers gathered in La Crosse, Wis., the second week of April to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP). The organization, which bills itself as America's largest cooperative of organic farmers, hosted producers from some two dozen states. CROPP is the parent company of Organic Valley.
CROPP continues inching toward $1 billion in yearly sales. For 2013, it recorded sales of $929.5 million. That was up 8.5 percent from the previous year's $856.9 million.
The higher sales were logged despite a fire last May that heavily damaged the co-op's headquarters and main office building in La Farge, Wis. In the co-op's annual report, chief executive officer, George Siemon, one of the founding members, called 2013 a hard year for us that gave the organization a good, old-fashioned humbling.
Even with the challenges of maintaining a business-as-usual course, CROPP grew. The farmers at the three-day meeting - who supply milk, meat, eggs and produce to the co-op - were told that it has grown from just 34 member farms in 1988, the year of its founding. It now has 1,844 farmer- members, according to CROPP's annual report.
A big reason CROPP has been able to add farmers and sales volume is its dairy division. Said Eric Newman, vice president of sales, "Organic dairy has been the growth engine, and milk has been the lead horse."
As part of a number of optimistic reports, members were told about a 30 percent increase in cheese and butter sales. Another tidbit: The Organic Valley brand is the top-selling organic milk in China.
Looking specifically at butter, Newman said its sales have bounced back, both in the United States and abroad. The higher sales, he said, are due to people believing that consuming high-quality fats will improve their health.
CROPP is reportedly the largest organic farmer cooperative in the world. It accounts for approximately half the sales of organic milk in the U.S.
The amount of all milk - organic and conventionally produced - sold in the U.S. has been declining. Newman attributed the shrinkage to nondairy products like almond milk growing in popularity.
"That," Newman said, "is disappointing, because we want people to drink milk. And we hope they drink organic (milk)."
But there's good news for CROPP members. Even though sales of milk in general have been slipping, sales of organic milk have been rising. Sales of organic milk recently accounted for 7.5 percent of the U.S. total.

Goal: finish building
One goal for 2015, according to Siemon, is finishing an office building in Cashton, Wis., where CROPP has a distribution center. The new building's completion was delayed because of the fire that damaged the La Farge headquarters last May 14. Part of the building was torn down and is expected to be in use this June.
The redone headquarters will be more energy efficient than before, said Jonathan Reinbold, manager of sustainability research and grants. A combination of solar collectors, light-emitting diodes (LED), and heat exchangers should let the structure use 40 percent less energy.
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