MOO Milk farmers to spend holiday weekend mulling Oakhurst proposals that could revive collaborative

Steve Morrison, who owns Clovercrest Farm, a certified organic dairy farm in Charleston, stands with his cows in this May 2014 file photo. Morrison was selling milk to MOO Milk before the company went out of business.
Steve Morrison, who owns Clovercrest Farm, a certified organic dairy farm in Charleston, stands with his cows in this May 2014 file photo. Morrison was selling milk to MOO Milk before the company went out of business. Buy Photo
Posted July 03, 2014, at 5:28 p.m.
Last modified July 03, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A proposal Thursday from Oakhurst Dairy has left the 12 dairy farmers of the shuttered Maine’s Own Organic Milk with the long holiday weekend to review details of at least two offers that could keep their collaborative together.

“The cards are truly on the table today,” Tom Drew of H.B. Farms in Woodland said during a phone call Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Drew said he was eager to sign a contract, possibly with Wisconsin-based Organic Valley. It’s a tough decision, he said, because it would mean making a split with the other 11 farms.

After a conference call to hear details of Oakhurst’s two-year contract proposal Thursday, Drew and the other farmers will take the weekend to consider their options.

“One processor might be better for me, and another might be better for someone else,” Steve Morrison of Clovercrest Farm in Charleston said.

Morrison said the general outline of deals from Oakhurst and Stonyfield will allow each farmer to get a better sense of how the processors would pay for their milk, based on unique milk quality and component profiles.

“Those are kind of homework activities for us all to be doing,” Morrison said, noting some questions still remain, such as how Oakhurst would handle the producers’ milk before it gains organic certification.

Morrison said, generally, the farmers are looking at the possibility of all sticking together through a deal with Stonyfield or Oakhurst, which after 92 years of local ownership was sold to the national cooperative Dairy Farmers of America in January. Other processors such as Organic Valley and Horizon Organic also have expressed interest in deals with some of the farmers, but neither has made an overture to the entire group.

Generally, involved parties said the Oakhurst deal would require most of the 12 farms to participate for the Portland-based dairy to take on the milk pickup route.

The proposal presented Thursday also could involve Oakhurst acquiring the MOO Milk brand. Tom Brigham, co-president of Oakhurst, said in a written statement late Thursday that details are still being evaluated.

“Oakhurst continues to attempt to provide a home for the MOO organic milk supply from the current farms and purchase the right to the brand,” Brigham said.

Morrison said his initial reaction was that no particular offer stands above the rest, and there will be variables other than hard numbers involved.

“It’s hard to separate emotion from the business perspective,” Drew said.

Part of that is keeping together the brand and business, whose four years ended abruptly in May.

“I think there’s some advantages to taking on the whole group, and I think any one of us could make a living with this opportunity,” Drew said of Oakhurst’s proposed deal. “But Oakhurst has never sold a gallon of our organic milk and hasn’t been in that market. This truly sounds like an experiment — and is it an experiment worth taking? It may well be if it can keep all the 12 farmers in business.

“These are the deliberations that I’m having in my own mind: Do I do what’s best for me, or can I live with what’s best for us all?” he said

The farmers said they expect to reconvene Sunday to establish where they all stand. Drew said he welcomes that time to think.

“I’m going to take a couple days to clear my head,” he said.

And in order for them to stay together, Morrison said they’ll first have to find out what appeals to them most on the individual farm level.

“If there’s one program that seems to offer something that’s more appealing, that’s not clear yet,” he said.

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