In March of this year, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative’s Farmer Board of Directors endorsed a statement supporting the legalization of raw milk in the state of Wisconsin that was sent to Governor Doyle. This was in keeping with the cooperative’s long standing support of consumer choice. So why in May did the CROPP Board vote to not allow its farmer-owners to sell raw milk? Is this a reversal of the position?
The raw milk issue at CROPP is one of the most deeply debated topics tackled by the cooperative in its 22 year history. The debate has been active on the membership, board, committee and management team levels for well over a year now, with the hope for a win-win solution. During this year volumes of information—research studies, illness cases, legal precedents, nutritional information and so on were brought forth. Each side was convinced that the information they brought to the table would sway the other side. It is correct to say that we are deeply familiar with both sides of the issue… and we are still divided. So why did the Board finally vote to not allow its members to be in the raw milk business? The synopsis below may help explain the decision:
- Most CROPP farmer-owners drink raw milk and many believe in its benefits. The decision is not because we are “against raw milk.”
- An unknown minority of our 1600+ dairy farmers sell raw milk as a side business. Some simply sell small quantities to neighbors, while others market it more actively.
- Raw milk is growing in popularity and is truly a local product. We believe consumers should have the choice to purchase it directly from the farm and consume it expediently.
- CROPP’s mission is to serve its farmers. We do this by being in the business of selling pasteurized organic milk under our brand, Organic Valley. This is a complex endeavor. Our model is to have regional milk going to regional markets. Our board wants its farmer-owners to stay focused on our model.
- Since our founding in 1988, when a farmer-owner signs up to become a member, they agree to deliver all of their milk to the cooperative, with the exception of milk used for calves and their own families. This policy simply requires that members uphold that agreement.
- We have encountered challenges in managing our milk supply. When the cooperative counts on and plans for a farmer’s entire supply, but then the amount of milk delivered is unexpectedly less due to raw milk sales, this creates difficulties in supply management and planning, which affects all of the cooperative’s farmer-owners.
- We are taking a cautious approach in order to keep our cooperative and brands strong for future generations of organic family farmers.
- At the request of the membership at the co-op’s most recent annual meeting, the farmer board wanted to end this drawn out raw milk debate, and they took the more conservative route to prohibit the farmer-owners from being in the raw milk business. This decision will require all our farmer-owners who sell raw milk to choose one business or the other. This may end up being a boon for the raw milk movement in the states where it is legal. The Cooperative cannot condone the sale of raw milk in the states where it is illegal.
- CROPP Cooperative is not against raw milk. We have let our farmers sell raw milk on the side for two decades. We have gone through a well vetted, inclusive process. It is now time for us to stand by our board's decision.
- We are currently working on policy implementation plan and timeline for our farmer-owners.
For more information about cooperative business structure and how our farmers govern the Organic Valley co-op, please visit www.organicvalley.coop/about-us/our-cooperative/.