The mood was upbeat and confident at the Malin Potato Cooperative in February of 2015. The Merrill, Oregon, agricultural co-op was preparing to open a brand-new, $7 million state-of-the-art potato packing plant.
The co-op’s members had been convinced the investment would provide a much-needed lift with the promise of high efficiency and new organic markets.
“It’s exciting,” says Dave Cacka (pronounced “choch-ka”), the co-op’s general manager at the time, in a Klamath Herald and News story picked up by the national press, including the Washington Times. “We’re looking forward to getting this operational.”
Today, only four years later, with the packing plant shuttered, the co-op disbanded, one of the co-op’s eight members in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and another now farming for someone else, that mood appears only a distant memory.
“Maybe there were some marketing mistakes,” says Greg Carleton, a former member of the co-op, who lost his farm. “But it all reverted back to the amount of debt that we were trying to service. The costs of that building were overwhelming.”
“It is the age-old story with agriculture: high debt with low prices,” says Cacka, who left the co-op’s general manager position in 2016 to hand the management to Larry Nixon.