The cooperative is hopeful shoppers will pay a premium for meat raised under guidelines for sustainability. But the high price of beef, in general, has cut into the advantage the branded product offers. Co-op officials said the co-op currently has 75 full members and 15 prospective members. It previously had more than 100 members.
Although the cooperative has been able to buy cattle meeting its specifications so it can supply retailers, it is a costly endeavor. And adding to the costs are added requirements from some retail buyers for new third-party certifications of animal-care practices and sustainable production marketing, said director Stacy Davies.
Last year, several members left the co-op after it added a requirement that producers be certified under Global Animal Partnership, designed to ensure animal welfare.
As a result, the co-op that began in Eastern Oregon is considering adjusting some requirements and working with retailers to streamline their demands, Davies said.
The price the co-op pays ranchers is based on the cost of production, not on market conditions, Davies said. He added the co-op needs 6,000 more head to meet demand over the next 12 months, or 10 percent of its orders.
Ranchers who are still with the cooperative "are in for the long term," and the key is to recruit new members who, joining now, are more likely to stay, Davies said.