Three Wisconsin dairy co-ops to merge

The boards of directors of three Wisconsin-based dairy cooperatives have voted to merge. Under the proposal, Family Dairies USA, Manitowoc Milk Producers and Milwaukee Cooperative Milk Producers would unite to form FarmFirst Cooperative. The new co-op would have about 5,400 dairy farms producing around 13 billion pounds of milk in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota. That would make FarmFirst the third-largest dairy co-op in the country behind Dairy Farmers of America and California Dairies. It would be the largest dairy co-op in the Midwest just ahead of Land O’Lakes.

Informational meetings will be held by each cooperative’s membership over the next six weeks. The proposal to merge will be voted on by each membership in mid-December. If the merger passes, the new, combined cooperative will begin business function January 1, 2013. Leadership stresses all three cooperatives are in sound financial shape, combining them will improve efficiencies, effectiveness and improve member benefits.

The new co-op would start out with a board combining the 20 members currently serving the three co-ops. Over a three-year period it will be pared down to a nine-member board elected from nine districts. The districts are divided equally by farm membership. Manitowoc Milk general manager Dennis Donahue would become general manager of the new co-op for a year, Family Dairies GM David Cooper would be assistant general manager and then step-up to general manager after a year. Jim Bird of Milwaukee Co-op will be director of the Fox Valley Lab and the milk procurement operation that Family Dairies currently operates. Those two will be independent entities but will be rolled into the overall financial operation of FarmFirst Cooperative.

FarmFirst Cooperative will be based at the current Family Dairies headquarters in Madison; they will maintain a satellite office in Manitowoc for a while. Milwaukee Co-op Milk had just sold their Brookfield office.

Milwaukee Cooperative Milk Producers was formed in 1916, Manitowoc Milk Producers began in 1933 and Family Dairies USA started out in 1971 as Farmers Union Milk Marketing Cooperative, it became Family Dairies in 1998.

AUDIO: Dennis Donahue talks about the plan 11:00 mp3

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