Organic Valley posts first financial loss in 20 years

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -- - Organic Valley posted its first financial loss in 20 years. Organic Valley officials say the La Farge-based company lost about $10 million in 2017.

According to Organic Valley CEO George Siemon, increased milk inventories, pricing pressures and a slowdown in sales growth contributed to the loss. 

"It was a good year in a lot of ways for fulfilling our mission but it was a hard year in that we were oversupplied which happens every six, seven years, it feels like," Siemon said. 

Siemon said the company did what it could to respond to the problem. 

"We tried to avoid cutting our farmers' pay price, which we finally did a little," Siemon said. "Because of that, we ended up losing money."

Despite a tough 2017, the company's optimism is still on track. 

"This year we feel that we are going to have a good year and we don't feel challenged about it at all," Siemon said. 

Organic Valley did see overall growth of 4 percent with gross sales exceeding $1.1 billion. 

The company is now the number one national brand for organic, 100 percent grass-fed dairy and meat. 

Organic farmer Kelly Placke said companies such as Organic Valley make products cheaper for the average consumer. 

"Now that the bigger players are coming in, I think the vegetables and the produce...(are also) starting to be affordable for more people," Placke said. 

Placke graduated from Arizona State University and spent six years as an art teacher. After traveling around the nation working on other organic farms, Placke made the return to her family organic farm in Cuba City Wisconsin. 

"I knew I didn't want to spend my whole life in the desert," Placke said. 

Placke said she enjoys being self-sustaining and knowing exactly where her food comes from. 

"I was like, I would really like to go home and be able to raise meat and vegetables and milk obviously," Placke said. 

Siemon said more young generations of farmers are continuing to pursue careers in this growing industry. 

"We are all looking for meaningful work," Siemon said. "I love to see that in young people. You always have to believe in doing the right thing."

The cooperative's average dairy pay price of more than $32 per 100 pounds is nearly double that of the conventional marketplace. 

The company also announced that by 2019, it intends to be the largest food company in the world powered by 100 percent renewable energy. 

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