Family Farmers Look to Organic for Survival
LAFARGE, Wis., Dec. 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Despite the downward spiral that has closed down more than six million American family farms and devastated thousands of rural communities across the land, organic agriculture is quickly emerging as a viable means of survival for the nation's small family farmers.
At Organic Valley Family of Farms, a national cooperative owned by more than 500 organic family farmers, the success of their model regularly attracts study from experts around the world, but the success realized in 2002 has broken all records.
"This year, Organic Valley achieved more than $125 million in sales, the highest in our history. We're most proud of having been able to pay a sustainable price to dairy farmers while satisfying the growing demand for milk produced organically. In Wisconsin this November, for example, we had a stable pay price of $20.02 per hundredweight while the conventional pay price was about $11 per hundredweight," said Organic Valley CEO George Siemon, the Wisconsin farmer who helped found the Cooperative 15 years ago.
Siemon noted that Organic Valley added 15,000 acres into the organic system for a national total of 75,000 acres, brought 94 farmers into the Cooperative for a national total of 515 organic farmers, and added 3,810 cows being raised organically for a national total of 17,800 cows.
Organic: Saving America's Family Farms
"Going organic saved our farm," said Organic Valley farmer Mike Gehl, whose Hartford, Wisconsin farm has been in his family 154 years and five generations. "Financial difficulties would have forced the sale of our dairy herd this November, and we would have not been able to retain ownership of the farm in 2003." Today, as a proud member of the Organic Valley Dairy Pool, the Gehl Farm has 80 Holsteins and 143 acres in organic production.
The viability of organic as a solution for small family farms has a number of proponents. Among them is Willie Nelson who was interviewed in the Fall/Winter Rootstock, Organic Valley's grassroots magazine. Said Nelson, "Organic farming is the ultimate answer... I think organic farming is the only way out for us because we have to get rid of the pesticides. We need to get rid of the chemicals. We have to go back to Mother Nature's way of doing things, and until we do that we're going to continue to go down in every way possible. In farming, if it's not sustainable, we shouldn't be doing it."
Similar support was generated by environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the late Senator, who said: "Organic farming has the vision for building the sustainable, rural communities our nation needs to protect our natural resources. As industrial agriculture destroys our rural communities, organic farmers offer a true return to community centered food production. They buy locally and reinvest in their communities. Thriving farms and town are essential for the protection of the local environment. Organic Valley provides a market for independent organic farmers, increasing their ability to survive in today's economy."
Consumer Demand Drives Sales
The ultimate support for organic is coming from American consumers who want organic products for their families. "Many parents have read the Consumer Reports studies and the National Academy of Science reports and know that organic for their kids is like 'seat belts in a car.' They want the cleanest food possible for their children, especially milk," said Theresa Marquez, Organic Valley's Director of Sales and Marketing. "The organic category has been growing steadily at 20 percent, and organic milk, with a 27+ percent annual growth, is driving the growth of the category. The implementation of the National Organic Program in the U.S. this October further established the organic market as one that is here to stay. Consumers want organic."
Eric Newman, Organic Valley's National Sales Director, noted that sales of the cooperative's award-winning organic cheeses, European style cultured butter and other organic products have paralleled that of the organic industry. "In 1992, sales for the cooperative were $2 million. Five years later they were $20 million. For 2002, they are projected to be $125 million, and by 2005, they will reach the $212 million mark," said Newman.
Sales are not the only measure of success at Organic Valley, however. "When we measure success at Organic Valley, we look at how many farms we've been able to save, how many acres of land we've gotten into the organic system, and how many jobs we are supporting in rural communities," said Siemon. "In addition, we're helping bring to life many rivers we've helped not be polluted with agricultural run-off, and we're helping to keep pesticides, hormones and antibiotics out of our bodies and our environment. "
About Organic Valley Family of Farms
One of the nation's leading organic brands and the only one to be solely owned by organic family farmers, Organic Valley was organized fifteen years ago by a half dozen family farmers who shared a love of the land and the belief in sustainable agricultural. Now made up of more than 500 organic farmers in 17 states from California to Maine, the success of the Organic Valley cooperative in part is due to its ability to provide a stable, equitable and sustainable farmers pay price. In an era of rising and falling agricultural prices, Organic Valley employs a model that is unmatched anywhere on earth. Delegations of farmers from all over the world trek regularly to Organic Valley's modest headquarters in rural LaFarge, Wisconsin to study their model of success.
Stewards of the earth who use nature and the wisdom of generations of farm families as their teachers, Organic Valley farmers produce more than 130 delicious organic foods. Look for Organic Valley milk, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, produce, juice and meats in food cooperatives, natural foods stores and supermarkets throughout the country. For further information, contact Organic Valley, 507 West Main St., LaFarge WI 54639, tel. (608) 625-2602, Toll Free (888) 444-6455, or visit www.organicvalley.com.
Organic Valley Family of Farms
2002 Year End Results
Organic Valley Family of Farms Sales
* 1992 $2 million * 2003 $155 million (projected)
* 1997 $20 million
* 2002 $125 million (estimated) * 2005 $212 million (projected)
Organic Valley's Record Level Pay Price
* Organic Valley was able to pay a sustainable pay price to dairy
farmers in 2002 while satisfying growing demand for milk produced
* In Wisconsin, the Cooperative had a pay price of $20.02 per
hundredweight while the conventional pay price was about $11 per
hundredweight (November 2002).
Organic Valley 2002 Accomplishments (National)
* Brought 94 farmers into the Cooperative, including a new 11-member
Ohio pool, for a nationwide total of 515 farmers.
* Added 3,810 cows being raised organically for a national total of
* Added 15,000 acres into the organic system for a national total of
about 75,000 acres.
Organic Industry Facts
* Thirty-nine percent of U.S. consumers choose organic, according to the
Natural Marketing Institute and SPINS "Organic Consumer Trends
Report" (December 2002)
* In 2002, the U.S. implemented the National Organic Program, the most
stringent standards for organic in the world.
* The U.S. market for organic has grown about 20 percent a year and is
expected to continue to do so through 2005.
(Nutrition Business Journal, 2001).
* The industry's 20 percent growth rate will continue to exceed the
10 percent annual growth rate of the natural foods segment and the
2-2.5 percent projected growth rate for conventional food.
(Scott Van Winkle, analyst, Adams, Harkness & Hill, 2001).
* The total U.S. organic market is projected to grow from $9.35 billion
in 2001 to over $13 billion in 2003.
(1999 Datamonitor, U.S. Organics).