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Friday, August 15th, 2014

Cooper Farms buys area co-op

By Nancy Allen
FORT RECOVERY - Cooper Farms has completed its acquisition of Fort Recovery Equity Exchange, a member-owned cooperative that produces eggs and pullets (young chickens) in Fort Recovery.
Cooper Farms in May announced its intent to purchase the co-op and said the companies had been in discussions for 18 months.
"Our Cooper family stockholders are very excited about creating a much more viable egg division for our company," said Gary Cooper, chief operating officer for Cooper Farms. "We have big plans for our future in eggs and value-added egg products."
Cooper Farms' egg division is the smallest part of the company behind turkeys and hogs.
The purchase will give the company 2 million additional egg-laying chickens and the ability to raise up to 6 million pullets for its own needs and for outside customers. The birds are raised by more than 40 area farmers who were Fort Equity members and will join Cooper Farms as contract growers.
Fort Equity's 75 employees have been asked to stay on with Cooper Farms, bringing the companies' total number of workers to about 1,700 throughout northwest and west central Ohio, Cooper said.
"We are gaining a wonderful group of people with this acquisition," he added.
As a result of the purchase, Cooper Farms also will gain a fourth feed mill in Fort Recovery and an egg-processing facility in Rossburg. A second egg-processing facility, Hoosier Pride on Stateline Road in Indiana, that had been owned by Fort Equity is not part of the purchase, Cooper said.
That facility is still owned by the same group of farmers who will continue to operate it independently, he explained.
"As is the case with contract operations in the area, they owned the building and the land and took care of the chickens, which were owned by Fort Recovery Equity Exchange," Cooper said. "With the Equity selling their assets, those contract families wanted to go off on their own and be an independent operation, so Fort Recovery Equity Exchange sold the chickens on-site to those farm contract growers."
A phone message left at Hoosier Pride seeking comment was not returned.
Cooper Farms also is negotiating with an Ohio business to purchase a new egg-cracking facility to expand Cooper Farms' egg division, Cooper confirmed. He would not name the business.
The new feed mill in Fort Recovery is expected to produce roughly 400,000 tons of feed in 2015. It has the capability to produce up to 1 million tons of complete feed annually, Cooper said.
The mill will allow Cooper Farms to create specialty feeds and accept specialty grains, Cooper said. Cooper Farms also has two other feed mills in Fort Recovery and one in Paulding.
Specialty eggs that Fort Equity processed and Cooper Farms will continue to produce include brown, organic, Eggland's Best and cage free.
Cooper said the company has been looking at a variety of egg-related businesses the past few years to beef up its egg division.
"We are especially interested in the variety of specialty egg layers we are gaining," said Cooper. "We see an opportunity to expand those numbers as we gain more niche customers"
Cooper said the company has based its success on value-added products such as turkey burgers, cooked deli meats and sliced meat that give consumers quick and easy meals. They plan to continue the philosophy with the egg division by providing liquid eggs and cooked egg products from the egg-breaking facility Cooper is talking to, he said.
Cooper Farms has numerous contract growers who produce turkeys, hogs and chicken eggs. The company, which started in 1938, also purchases corn and soybeans to make feed. It has employees at multiple locations, a turkey processing plant in St. Henry, a cooked meats plant in Van Wert and a hatchery in Oakwood.
Members of Fort Recovery Equity Exchange, founded in 1919, unanimously approved the purchase, Cooper said.
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