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Agri-Mark has profitable year, adds members

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Agri-Mark, the dairy cooperative that owns Cabot and McCadam cheese, has doubled in a year the number of Amish farms it represents.

Last year, the cooperative had roughly 60 Amish farmers who sent their product to community milk houses that contain bulk tanks. The cost of electricity, which is in Agri-Mark’s name, is deducted from their milk checks.

North country Amish members now number roughly 125, Agri-Mark spokesman Douglas J. DiMento said.

The total number of Amish members is 142, including some in Maine who moved from the north country, he said.

“We’re building more milk rooms,” Mr. DiMento said. “It’s putting cash in their pockets.”

North country Amish farmers started to join Agri-Mark in 2009 after the Heritage Cheese Plant in Heuvelton closed. At the time, Heritage was the only facility that accepted Amish milk.

The community milk rooms have worked well because they are located near clusters of Amish, which allows milk from several farms to be cooled to less than 40 degrees within two hours so it can be shipped.

Agri-Mark represents about 650 farms in New York. Its membership also has increased in St. Lawrence County, where it has more than 230 farmers. Last year, it represented about 200 farmers in St. Lawrence County. Agri-Mark’s membership in Jefferson County remained about the same at a little more than 50.

The cooperative announced a profit for 2012 after taxes of $10.2 million, the sixth year in a row of earning more than $10 million for its 1,250 Northeast member farmers.

The profit was smaller than last year, when the cooperative made $15 million for 2011 — its second best operating results — but that was partly because Agri-Mark’s board decided to pay out more cash for premiums so that farmers could see more money on a monthly basis, Mr. DiMento said.

The profit allocation to farmers was 35 cents per hundredweight, which is roughly 3 cents per gallon for all of the milk each farm marketed through the cooperative in 2012. The allocation represented earnings of about $7,500 for the average member.

Members receive part of their profit share in cash and part in equity. Checks for the cash portion were mailed in early March.

The profits were in addition to $21 million in payments in monthly milk checks for high quality and other premiums, as well as $6.3 million in hauling subsidies.

The combined total of benefits was $37.5 million.

“It was still a good year given the tough economic conditions we faced,” Mr. DiMento said.

Fluid milk prices averaged $18.63 per hundredweight in 2012. Farmers who ship milk for cheese production typically receive about one dollar less per hundredweight.

Milk prices for 2013 are expected to average around $20 per hundredweight.

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