Organic Valley: From dream to multimillion-dollar reality

2011-10-02T00:00:00Z Organic Valley: From dream to multimillion-dollar realityBy ANNE JUNGEN La Crosse Tribune

His title is CEO, but George Siemon likes C-E-I-E-I-O better.

It's fitting for the man at the helm of Organic Valley Family of Farms-CROPP Cooperative.

Today the business is the nation's largest co-op of organic farmers and produces more organic milk than any other company. Not bad for a business only 23 years old based in small-town La Farge.

"This is a very dynamic business that represents a lot about social change," Siemon said.

Siemon is a Florida native who visited his family's Iowa farm as a child and while studying animal science at Colorado State University.

He first got wind of organic agriculture while working on the Iowa farm in 1974.

"I got really excited about it," he said.

Siemon bought a small dairy farm south of Chaseburg two years later after falling in love with the area.

He was a volunteer with Organic Valley when the co-op was born in 1988. He later headed its dairy program until taking over as chief executive officer in 1994.

"I was raised in a business family, but I never thought I'd be a businessman," he said.

The business grew from one employee with a crop of volunteers to become Vernon County's largest employer with 550 workers. Sales this year are on pace to exceed 2010.

"Organic has really bounced back from the recession," Siemon said.

How has the company changed in your tenure?

It has gone from a volunteer dream to a professional company selling $2 million in product daily.

Has the economic downtown affected the business?

Ours sales went flat in 2009 but have rebounded today, and growth is outstripping supply.

What is the company doing to stay ahead of its competitors?

We are always striving to represent the highest standards possible. We support farmers in all ways so as to encourage farmers to join our cooperative, which gives us more production to sell.

Tell us more about the company's expansion project.

We are now completing our addition to our headquarters, which will increase our office numbers by 150 people and provide more meeting rooms and better facilities for our wellness programs.

Where do you see the business going in the future?

As a farmer cooperative, we know that we want to keep doing what we are already doing for generations to come.

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