Kersey’s High Plains Dairy seizes organic opportunity

Editor’s note: Kim Lock is leaving the Northern Colorado Business Report after more than three years covering the agribusiness beat. Kim has decided to focus her energies on raising her children. We wish her well.

KERSEY – Nowadays agriculture has to have a value-added aspect to get full value out of agriculture.

Scott and Brad Cockroft of Kersey were well aware of needing to add value to keep their farm afloat for generations to come. So the brothers came up with a plan: Go organic.

Not organic crops, but organic cows owned by Aurora Organic Dairy in Boulder. The brothers decided to transform 800 acres of farmland into a fully organic dairy with 3,200 cows. The milk will be trucked to and processed at Aurora Organic’s private-label bottling plant.

“Over the long term, our dream is to see our home community of Kersey and Weld County develop into a significant center of the organic dairy and value-added sustainable agriculture movement in the Rockies,´ said Scott Cockroft, co-owner of the newly commissioned High Plains Organic Dairy. “We believe High Plains Organic Dairy will help our local economy and will spur community development in a big way. In addition, the economic success and environmental sustainability of organic farming in Weld County will give our children the opportunity to have lifelong careers in agriculture.”

The Cockrofts own the dairy and the land it sits on while Aurora Organic owns the cows and leases the land from the family. Construction is expected to begin soon with the first gallon of milk produced in fall 2006.

The dairy is being constructed with the environmental stability of the area under consideration. Aurora is ensuring the dairy has a comprehensive solid-waste management system, a water-treatment facility and water conservation system. The dairy will utilize renewable energy sources and focus on energy conservation.

All cows in the barns, milking parlors and pastures will have access to organic pasture which will cover more than 85 percent of the land.

“The design of this farm is the realization of our company’s dream for a new level of sustainability in organic dairying,´ said Mark Perperzak, founder and CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. “Once construction is completed and operations are under way, High Plains Organic Dairy will be the most advanced, environmentally sustainable, large organic dairy operation in America.”

Aurora Organic currently milks 4,200 cows at its St. Vrain Organic Dairy in Platteville and 2,900 cows in Texas, near Dallas. The company specializes in producing private-label organic milk for conventional and natural grocers who operate regionally and nationally.

“For us it will increase milk supply and allow us to serve more customers,´ said Clark Driftmier, vice president of marketing for Aurora Organic. “This increase in milk supply will also open up a new source of supply.”

Driftmier said the shift of this family farm to an organic dairy is just another sign of the changing times in Weld County agriculture.

“This value-added and often times organic shift brings additional prosperity to a farm and community,” he said.  “Over the long term I think the story of Weld County will include this increased development of organic agriculture in the county.”

The last roundup

I have enjoyed the past three-and-a-half years covering agriculture for the Northern Colorado Business Report. During this time I have learned how truly important our agricultural heritage is and how we all have to ensure it remains a viable entity in Northern Colorado.

The industry is experiencing some growing pains as many farmers sell land in favor of development, leaving neighbors and agricultural-dependent industries wondering how to pick up additional markets and customers.

Some have gotten creative with marketing or land use, while others have become downright inventive.

When I started the only knowledge I had of ethanol came from the little stickers on local gas pumps. Now I feel the three ethanol plants in the region will bring new life to corn-growers and hopefully increase the sightings of my favorite crop (water permitting).

I am also excited about the transformation of cattle waste into electricity, restaurant grease into diesel and turkey parts into usable oil.

The future of agriculture looks bright – if people will take the time to find out where their food comes from. My hope is that every field will remain green and not simply abused for its water rights.

To suggest ideas for future Agribusiness columns, contact Business Report Editor Robert Baun at bbaun@ncbr.com.