Farm: Cold Spring Ranch
Location: North New Portland, Maine
Operation Profile: 150 Angus stockers/year
GAP Step Level: 4
Gabe Clark started Cold Spring Ranch in 2005, when he purchased a 240-acre failed dairy farm in Maine to raise Angus stockers. In his first year, Gabe processed 24 calves. Today he and his wife, Molly, process around 150 cattle per year. They sell to restaurants, Bates College, directly to the public, and a significant portion of their sales are to Whole Foods Market® (WFM). Gabe says he raises his cattle free-ranging throughout the year and provides a 100% grass diet.
Currently, Cold Spring Ranch beef products are rated as Global Animal Partnership Step 4, GAP’s “pasture-centered” level. In 2007, WFM bought Wild Oats, where Gabe was selling products. When WFM required that fresh meats be GAP-certified, Gabe sought and maintained GAP certification so that he could continue to sell to WFM.
Gabe says, “I didn’t have to change a thing about my operation to participate.” He just had to tweak methods of record-keeping “to formally document what I was already doing.”
Gabe pays certification costs for his farm, the three farms from which he purchases calves, and his processor. He covers the other operations’ costs because, as he sees it, he is “asking them to do more,” in terms of GAP’s record-keeping requirements. Currently, he pays his GAP certifiers and processor certifiers over $10,000 per year.
GAP Certification Outcomes
Product Differentiation. In Gabe’s view, America’s agriculture economy has evolved in such a way that the beef cattle farmer has two business models to choose from and/or work toward: (1) high-volume (low-cost) production with low profit margins, or (2) high profit margins on low-volume (higher-cost) production. According to Gabe, for the latter model, the price premiums that drive the higher profit margins have to be justified by some meaningful product differentiation.
Gabe points to GAP standards as giving him negotiation power. “As they add more requirements,” he explains, “it gives me more safety with the markets that request them.” Each new animal welfare standard is another hurdle that a competitor might not aim to surmount.
Market Access. WFM is Cold Spring Ranch’s single largest customer. Gabe appreciates the reliable sales outlet, though notes that his ability to benefit from this market access is limited by the numbers of cattle he can produce given his land base.
10%+ Premiums. Gabe contracts with three Maine cow-calf operations for his GAP-certified cattle. He states that he pays them at least a 10% premium, part of which is to compensate them for their efforts complying with GAP’s requirements. Over time, he has been able to pass those costs along to WFM. (Note: Farms that do not sell directly into WFM may still sell animals to farms that do, and benefit from related premiums. With that in mind, Gabe advises farms to contact their closest WFM to ask about which local farms sell directly to the store).
Supporting Local Economies. Gabe and his three calf providers “essentially joined forces to have enough acres to make enough animals to meet a market.” As a result, he looks at WFM, GAP, and the premiums GAP contributes to earning, as mechanisms for supporting the local farmers with whom he works.
Improved Animal Welfare. According to Gabe, strict welfare standards—like early castration and late weaning—are “just good management” in that they reduce stress and trauma that can contribute to illness.
Why Certify with GAP?
“You want to have your product be worth something? Differentiate it,” advises Gabe. For producers who are already close to meeting GAP standards and could potentially develop a relationship with WFM or another farm that sells into WFM, “the barrier is just knowledge of opportunities and the potential benefits.”