By Jessica Centers
The U.S.'s largest farmer-owned co-op and leading certified organic beef company announced a partnership Monday that will expand the nation's organic beef supply. CROPP Cooperative will supply beef cattle to Dakota Beef in a move that will allow CROPP to increase its farmer membership and Dakota Beef to meet growing consumer demand.
"Over the last three to five years, the meat sector has been rapidly growing, so a lot of our effort and focus has been [meeting with farmers] interested in going organic," explained Tedd Heilmann, general manager of Organic Prairie, the brand under which CROPP markets some of its members' beef. "We've always been able to grow our supply, but we wait until we have markets established for those farmers."
CROPP, which has 1,200 members in 32 states, supplies organic meat, dairy, eggs, juice and soy to private labels and sells some organic foods under its own labels, Organic Prairie and Organic Valley.
"For us, that's an approach that gives us a diversity of marketing strategies and allows us to serve our farmers without putting all of our eggs in one basket," Heilmann says. "One of our other functions is to find markets for our members' livestock. We saw an opportunity to supply Dakota Beef with organic beef cattle as their markets were growing."
In a prepared statement, Dakota Beef said long-term partnerships with certified organic beef producers, like the one being forged with CROPP, has allowed it to meet consumer demand while other beef companies struggle to supply the market.
"By combining our efforts, we expand our reach in the marketplace to answer consumer demand while maintaining exceptional quality," Dakota Beef CEO Scott Lively said. "We will ensure a strong supply of organic beef through the end of the year and all of 2009."
Dakota Beef, which operates its own 33,000-square-foot, certified organic processing plant in Howard, S.D., gets all of its cattle from certified organic pasture in the Midwest, where they are fed certified organic grains and never administered antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. The cattle are instead treated humanely to reduce stress and help their natural immune systems.
Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, says the partnership is good news that he hopes will translate into an adequate supply of organic beef in the U.S. "For a number of years, there has been a large increase in demand for organic beef, considerably higher than growth in the organic sector in general, but there's been a shortage of supply," he says. "A lot of the organic beef until now has been imported into this country from overseas, which doesn't make a lot of sense from an organic or environmental perspective."