Maple Leaf Cooperative files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Following the end of a 24-year partnership between Maple Leaf Cheese Coop and the Maple Leaf Cheesemakers group, the cooperative has filed Ch. 11 bankruptcy in bid to buy time to save plant.

MONROE – One of the state's oldest cheese plants has filed for bankruptcy in an effort to save the business.

Jeremy Mayer, president of the Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative said the Chapter 11 filing was a way for the cooperative to restructure its debts and buy time for the 110-year-old cooperative to find a new partner after the 24-year partnership with Maple Leaf Cheesemakers Inc. ended on Nov. 20, 2020.

Bob Bade, treasurer and milk producer for Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative, said the farmer-owned cooperative was notified by Maple Leaf Cheesemakers Inc. that it was no longer economically viable to keep making cheese at the Monroe-based plant.

The cheesemaker group said both dairy market volatility and the coronavirus pandemic has forced the tough decision to discontinue production of their award-winning cheese at the Monroe facility.”

Bade pointed out that the cooperative had been in negotiations with Maple Leaf Cheesemakers for the past year in an attempt to fashion a better contract for the co-op.

Mayer said the Cooperative is hopeful that the bankruptcy court will authorize payments owed to patrons for all milk delivered prior to the bankruptcy petition date.

"Regretfully I know that the Cooperative farmer-owners will have to make further sacrifices in the short run, but that Chapter 11 is the only way to keep the Cooperative alive and rebuild for a stronger future,” he said. “Our Cooperative family has had to make sacrifices before and each time, the Cooperative and its farmer-owners have come out stronger than before.” 

RELATED: Maple Leaf Cooperative still looking home for milk by Dec. 7

RELATED: Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative notified of plant shutdown

Mayer says the effort to help its 25 cooperative-owner producers find a temporary home for their milk has been time consuming.

"It's taken a lot of time and effort; now the Co-op will turn its full attention to finding a new partner and relaunching the Cooperative’s cheese business," he said.

Shirley Knox, president of the Maple Leaf Cheesemakers group told Midwest Farm Report that they were "surprised" by the Dec. 9 bankruptcy filing.

“We honored our existing contract in full, and then, ultimately, couldn’t come to an agreement that worked for our needs and the needs of the Cooperative members in this challenging business environment," she told the news outlet. 

Following the expiration of the contract between the Cooperative and the cheesemakers, Maple Leaf Cheesemakers moved its equipment and workers out of the plant and is now making cheese its other cheese operations, including Alpine Slicing and Cheese Conversion Co. and Cheese Louise, Inc., also in Monroe.

Knox hopes that customers don't confuse the two entities in the wake of the bankruptcy filing and reassured them that Maple Leaf Cheesemakers are continuing to produce the award-winning cheeses they are noted for.

Mayer says the Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative Board of Directors and patrons are grateful for the support from the Green County community and the Wisconsin dairy industry during this uncertain time.

"This is helping the Cooperative stay strong and optimistic about the future,” he said.