Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative

Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative




Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative was started nearly twenty years ago, with an idea to market lamb meat to the consumer.  Soon after the company formed, they switched gears and went from marketing commodity lamb to natural lamb to differentiate themselves from other companies. 

Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative produces natural premium lamb products.  These natural lamb products range from patties to loin chops to sirloin steaks.  They are sold to the consumer.  To join the cooperative, members pay an initial $100.00.  Currently the company has 184 growers from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. 


In April 1999, Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative was established after three years of feasibility studies, market research and market development.  Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative is a grower-owned company dedicated to producing the highest quality table ready natural lamb. Lamb is grown on the clean prairies of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and conforms to the highest standards of meatiness, taste and the Dakota Lean "Natural" Lamb label.


Today’s challenges include the current state of the U.S. economy and consumer’s reluctance to purchase premium products during an economic downturn.  Another major challenge Dakota Lamb Growers faces is finding a processor to market the middle meat of the lamb, including cuts such as roasts, lower cut loin cuts, lamb chops, etc.  Marketing end meat profitably is also a challenge – determining strategies to effectively market this meat would benefit the company.


Dakota Lamb Growers biggest success is that it is growing.  David explained, “When we grow any little bit it is a success.”  The company is growing in volume but making sure they still fulfill what the consumer wants and wishes to purchase.  David Merwin stated, “Perseverance is key, you need to learn from the mistakes that you make.”

Future Goals

The goal of Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative is to produce premium lamb products. The cooperative provides a consistent product at a consistent price that benefits local lamb producers.  Dakota Lamb Growers wants to grow in volume but still meet the consumers’ needs.  David explained, “The packer will tell us what the consumer wants and what they can sell.”  This helps make them produce more of what is requested by the consumer, be it leaner or fatter.  The leaner lamb is more expensive to produce but achievable through genetics.  Dakota Lamb Growers main goal is to have the producer own the company and market it with an alliance of likeminded companies and customers.  “The packer will know what the consumer wants and then give us that information,” stated Merwin.

VAPG Funding

Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative used their VAPG grant to expand the amount of natural lamb products sold by marketing four new processed lamb products – ground lamb, smoked shoulder, legs and sausage.  Dakota Lamb growers also used the VAPG grant to pay workers salaries, marketing costs, and label and packaging design. 


VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.

Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)