New partnership reflects increasing demand for cage-free eggs, customer deadlines and recent state law changes on hen housing and egg production
Northwest Farms and Proterra Investment Partners (Proterra) has acquired the operations and assets of Willamette Egg Farms (Willamette) in the Pacific Northwest from Michael Foods, Inc., a subsidiary of Post Holdings.
Northwest Farms is a newly formed company that includes several egg farming families who also are owners in Versova Management (Versova). Versova, headquartered in Sioux Center, IA, has assumed day to day management of the farms, located in Washington and Oregon.
The acquisition includes Willamette’s egg farms in Moses Lake, WA; and Canby and Molalla, OR. The farms include three egg-laying sites housing more than three million hens in production and two feed mills. The sale closed December 2, 2021.
Proterra is an alternative investment manager focused on private capital investments in the natural resources sectors of agriculture, food, and metals and mining, with nearly $4 billion in assets under management. Their fund investments reflect fundamental perspectives on the macro- and micro-economic trends driving the markets in which they invest. Through an emphasis on strong local relationships and expertise, Proterra seeks to provide unique opportunities for investors. Proterra launched as a standalone investment advisor for the Black River Asset Management private equity funds on January 1, 2016. The Funds spun out from Black River Asset Management, a wholly owned, independently managed subsidiary of Cargill, Inc.
Versova is a family of egg production companies with farms in Iowa and Ohio. Versova Management provides shared services and operational oversight for farms including Iowa Cage-Free, Centrum Valley Farms, Center Fresh Group, Hawkeye Pride and Sioux County Egg Farm, all in Iowa, and Trillium Farms in Ohio. In August 2021, Versova also acquired the assets of Rembrandt Foods’ Thompson, IA, cage-free farm, now called Ovation Farms.
“Versova has been producing cage-free and specialty eggs for more than a decade, and we have been intentional about reinvesting in our business and increasing our capacity in those areas to meet growing demand. Proterra’s investment in this defined growth allows us to accelerate and be more efficient in reaching those goals,” said JT Dean, President, Versova. “There are dramatic changes coming in U.S. egg production, including customer-set deadlines to transition to cage-free, as well as state law changes regarding hen housing. We want to secure our position to maintain our strong and stable supply of the eggs our customers want now and in the future.”
“Proterra’s Sustainable Agriculture Fund invests growth equity with strategic producers to build and operate the infrastructure needed to supply food companies with products that align with their sustainability initiatives. It is natural for our fund to make cage-free egg production a core investment theme, based on the public statements of over 220 retail, foodservice and food manufacturing companies to only supply eggs from cage-free hens. Further supporting our focus is the knowledge that eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and serve as a highly affordable source of protein for consumers,” said Mike LeSage, Managing Director, Proterra. “Recently, food companies that are serious about their cage-free commitments have been entering into long-term, multi-year offtake agreements to support the capital investment needed to ensure production can meet their cage-free demand.”
Versova plans to manage and market Willamette’s cage-free, conventional, organic and specialty eggs produced in Oregon and initiate an expansion of those operations. The Washington farm location at Moses Lake, which currently raises hens in conventional cage housing, will be converted to cage-free housing. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall to meet upcoming cage-free transition deadlines. The recent acquisitions of Ovation Farms, and the Willamette Washington farm in Moses Lake that will be converted to cage-free housing, increase Versova’s overall holdings in cage-free production by 35%.
Willamette Egg Farms began in the Willamette Valley in 1934 with history as a third-generation, family-owned farm. The Satrum and Cunningham families, which operated the farms prior to the sale to Michael Foods, Inc., remain in Oregon. “We are pleased that the farms will return to private ownership and be managed by families with deep roots in egg production,” said Greg Satrum. “This is good news for Oregon and Washington and for the local communities where our farms operate.”
“Proterra and Versova are aligned on what’s important – addressing global food demand through responsible, large-scale agriculture – and doing so in a way that is consistent with the values and principles ingrained in our companies and that ensures we can be a strong partner and contributor where our farms operate,” said Dean. “Without question, the future of egg production will require this kind of investment and vision to maintain an abundant, affordable supply of nutritious eggs; to meet changing customer and consumer expectations; and to provide jobs and economic value in local communities.”
Versova’s overall holdings in cage-free production continue to increase. In the past decade, Versova’s cage-free production has grown by more than seven million hens, and the company has cage-free expansion currently underway at Center Fresh in Sioux Center, IA, and Hawkeye Pride in Corwith, IA.
Willamette employees will remain with the farms. Versova’s operational structure includes robust hen welfare and egg safety practices, environmental compliance, sustainability and team member care. Versova has two fulltime, on-staff veterinarians who oversee the company’s stringent hen health and well-being programs.