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Kentucky Organic Farm and Feed Inc: Dairy Co-Op ensures feed supply by operating organic grain mill

 The idea behind the Kentucky Organic Farm and Feed Inc. (KOFFI) was developed by a group of Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers in southern Kentucky as they began to investigate their options for sourcing organic feed.

The farmers, who were transitioning to organic dairy production, needed a local source to mill their cattle feed. At the time of the transition, a fellow farmer, John Troyer, was doing some milling for the group and he was selling some organic products. Troyer agreed to expand his production of organic feed and he rented a building on the same road as his farm to expand production to provide locally milled organic feed for the dairy cattle producers in the area.

“John was doing a great job, but he had a lot of irons in the fire,” explains Menno Beiler, KOFFI president. “He had reached a point where he wanted to pass off the business or get more people involved. We decided to put together a steering committee to look at what direction we wanted to go, and that is when we decided to develop a cooperative to run the feed mill.”

KCARD gives crucial assistance

The group decided to rent the building Troyer had used as a mill and continued the operation. The Kentucky Center for Agriculture & Rural Development (KCARD) was brought to the table early in the process to help the group of farmers navigate the development of the cooperative.

“There were a few [of the dairy farmers] that had business experience, but none of us had any experience with a cooperative,” says Beiler. “I can’t remember who recommended we contact KCARD for help, but this co-op probably would have never happened if KCARD hadn’t been there to guide us through the development.”

Coming in to assist the co-op during the early stages of development allowed KCARD to help the farmers draft the initial bylaws and articles of incorporation to establish the cooperative. The Center’s staff attended meetings for several months, helping the farmers as they developed a business plan for the mill.          

KCARD also worked closely with Organic Valley, an organic milk cooperative that is the buyer of the farmers’ milk, to develop the plan for supplying grain to the mill.

“At this point, the grain is not owned by KOFFI; it is on consignment from Organic Valley,” explains Beiler. “Organic Valley has the grain delivered to the mill, KOFFI mills it in the feed ration each producer needs, and then Organic Valley bills the farmer for the grain. KOFFI bills the farmer for a milling and moving charge.”

Expanding customer base

KOFFI has grown its customer base beyond the initial farmers that came together to create the cooperative. Sam Justice, KOFFI mill operator and driver, says that while the core business remains the organic dairy farmers, there are a growing number of small poultry producers and other livestock operators in the area coming to the mill for their organic feed.

“I believe we are the only organic mill in about a 250-mile radius,” says Justice. “The majority of our customers are in the southern Kentucky area, but we do have farmers that come from Tennessee and even one that drives from Georgia for organic feed.”

Justice and Beiler agree that running an organic feed mill has offered challenges and successes.  Unlike conventional feed mills, Justice can’t just run down to the local elevator to pick up grain if the supply at the mill runs low. Yet, farmers have also learned to work with Justice to use the unique mix of organic grains in their animal rations.

“It has been a learning experience for us all, but thanks to the dedication of our farmers and the continued assistance from KCARD we are moving forward,” says Beiler. “I believe that there is an opportunity for KOFFI to continue to grow to provide a much needed service to organic farmers in the area.”