Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative farmers to be paid for November milk

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
After a 24-year partnership, Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative and the Maple Leaf Cheesemakers Inc., are parting company, leaving 25 small and medium-sized dairy farms looking for a home for their milk.

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier in December, Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative will pay their members for the milk provided in November following an approved court motion to release funds.

A press release from the cooperative said their top priority was ensuring farmers get paid for their milk before sorting out their other debts.

"Ensuring payments to the Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative for milk delivered in November was the first priority during the Chapter 11 proceedings and a necessary action to keep our farmers in business and to keep the Cooperative together as the 110 year old cooperative seeks a valued new partner after operations temporarily ceased this month," said Jeremy Mayer, president of the cooperative.

The cooperative includes 25 dairy farmers and has won many awards for their cheeses since being established in 1910. Their storied history hit a rough patch mid-October of this year when their processing partner of 24 years, Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, Inc., terminated their contract due to financial concerns. They had been negotiating a new contract since 2019.

The company was making cheese using milk from the cooperative in a Monroe facility, but after the contract termination, Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative was given one month to find a new home and a new partner, neither of which have yet been accomplished. The deadline was later extended to December. In the absence of a new cheesemaking partner, the cooperative has been trying to fulfill contracts with milk buyers so the farmers can still sell.

"Hopefully our farmers can rest a little easier over Christmas with these milk payments," Mayer said.

Following the closing of the Monroe plant, Maple Leaf Cheesemakers moved its workers and equipment to other nearby plants, including Alpine Slicing and Cheese Conversion Co. and Cheese Louise, Inc., also in Monroe.

A Go Fund Me campaign is still open for Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative, which has raised $2,915 out of its $150,000 goal. Mayer said the cheese plant has seen significant interest and he expects to reopen in 3-4 months.

"Now the priority is to keep the Cooperative and its milk supply together while a new partner is found and the Cooperative can rebuild for a stronger future," Mayer said. "The Cooperative has already seen significant interest in the cheese plant from prospective future partners and the Cooperative’s priority will now be on securing the best new partner for a strong future and relaunching the cheese business."