Montana Organic Producers Form New Co-op


Twenty-two organic livestock producers have joined together to form the Montana Organic Producers Co-op (MOPC). Its mission is to help organic producers achieve fair, stable pricing for their output based on cost-of-production plus a fair return.

Organic producers face a number of challenges in obtaining a fair price including cheap off-shore organic meats being sold to consumers without country of origin labeling; a lack of local certified organic processing facilities; limited transportation to inter- and intra-state markets; and a lack of information on cost-of-production and grading to help producers continually improve their herds and manage their pricing proactively.

“MOPC’s purpose is to help organic producers market their products at a fair price regardless of the hurdles particular to organic production. We want to represent our members in those arenas which can affect infrastructure and legislation to the benefit of not only organic producers, but our agricultural community as a whole,” states Clay McAlpine, MOPC chairperson.

MOPC has grown out of the input of over 70 organic producers who worked together to develop a unique co-op model. It orchestrates the growing, feeding, and finishing of animals produced by its members, allowing profits of cow-calf and feed sales to remain within the group before finished animals are sold to national and regional buyers.

“Our pricing model has little to do with conventionally produced meats and commodity pricing because our animals are raised using a completely different production management system,” says McAlpine. “MOPC’s certified organic growers adhere to current organic law, but they take their commitment to sustainable farming practices one step further. Our animals are pasture-raised and grass finished, while commodity pricing levels are tied to corn prices and feed lot systems.”

MOPC began negotiating sales contracts for potential members in 2005. Sales and shipments for 2006 jumped 338% and are anticipated to increase another 70 to 80% in 2007. MOPC coordinates all animal shipments of participating producers so that even the smallest producers may benefit from farm-gate prices generally reserved for volume contracts and full potload shipments.

McAlpine adds: “While our aim is to promote Montana certified organic products, we have attracted members from across Montana and several adjoining states. Our current membership is comprised of ranchers from Montana as well as South Dakota, Nebraska and Idaho. We do not anticipate developing a MOPC “brand” nor do we require that our members sell all of their production through the co-op. Of course our hope is to do a good enough job for our members that they’ll choose to sell most, if not all, of their production through MOPC.”

MOPC’s current focus is on beef, but it will also be marketing lamb, goats, pork, and possibly bison as sufficient numbers of these animals become available to be attractive to buyers. As time goes on, MOPC will likely be adding organic grain marketing to their list of services to member producers.

MOPC is a collaborative marketing cooperative for qualifying organic producers of agricultural products. MOPC is affiliated with a network of other organic farmer marketing cooperatives and OFARM to share information, contacts, pricing, and to develop marketing opportunities for member producers. MOPC’s purpose is threefold: 1) to find markets for members’ products and negotiate fair, stable, consistent pricing; 2) to act as an information source for member producers, and to provide grading and yield data back to producers to they can better manage their crops and herds; 3) to speak for organic farmers’ interests in legislative matters and with the NOP, and in other instances as warranted.