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-opâ€™s members had been convinced the investment would provide a much-needed lift with the promise of high efficiency and new organic markets.
â€œItâ€™s exciting,â€ says Dave Cacka (pronounced â€œchoch-kaâ€), the co-opâ€™s general manager at the time, in a Klamath Herald and News story picked up by the national press, including the Washington Times. â€œWeâ€™re looking forward to getting this operational.â€
Today, only four years later, with the packing plant shuttered, the co-op disbanded, one of the co-opâ€™s eight members in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and another now farming for someone else, that mood appears only a distant memory.
â€œMaybe there were some marketing mistakes,â€ says Greg Carleton, a former member of the co-op, who lost his farm. â€œBut it all reverted back to the amount of debt that we were trying to service. The costs of that building were overwhelming.â€
â€œIt is the age-old story with agriculture: high debt with low prices,â€ says Cacka, who left the co-opâ€™s general manager position in 2016 to hand the management to Larry Nixon.