Why Pork-Free Farms Work
(FORTUNE Small Business) – What is life like on a farm that doesn't benefit from federal subsidies? A lot more entrepreneurial, it seems. An increasing number of independent-minded farmers have kicked the subsidized-crop habit and are cashing in on organic products. Last year sales of organic food grew about 20%. A pioneer in this field is Organic Valley, one of the heartland's few entrepreneurial success stories. The company, a co-op of dairy farmers founded in La Farge, Wis., in 1988, today consists of nearly 700 farmers nationwide who generate revenues that have grown to $208 million, up from $20 million in 1997. FSB's Tahl Raz spoke with CEO George Siemon, 52:
Why aren't more farmers doing what you're doing? The government tells farmers to forget about the market and produce what they tell you to produce; they manage your business. It's frightening.
Why focus on organics? There was a latent movement underway. We realized people would pay extra to eat and drink pesticide-free food. And we could gain control over our pricing.
Your co-op handles everything from farming to marketing. Again, it's about giving the farmer more control. The quality associated with our brand adds value, and that comes back to the farmer in higher returns. We escape the boom-and-bust commodity cycle.
Will the family farm survive? I'm hopeful. Organics is producing a new breed of farmer: college-educated, environmental, and swelling with an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for what they do.