Land O'Lakes, Inc. is a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, Minnesota, focusing on the dairy industry. The co-op states that it has about 3,600 direct producer-members, 1,000 member-cooperatives, and about 10,000 employees who process and distribute products for about 300,000 agricultural producers; handling 12 billion pounds of milk annually. It is ranked third on the National Cooperative Bank Co-op 100 list of mutuals and cooperatives. The co-op is one of the largest producers of butter and cheese in the United States.
Land O'Lakes was founded on July 8, 1921 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, by representatives from 320 co-op creameries as the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association. This organization aimed to improve marketing and quality of butter, and thus increase the profitability of dairying.
The Association developed and implemented the systematic inspection, grading and certification of butter from member creameries, resulting in greater uniformity of product. The improved quality and uniformity, and the reliability of its grading system, were touted in advertising materials. In 1924, the uniformly graded sweet cream butter was given the name "Land O'Lakes" after a contest, and the certificate forms used by the Association included the "Land O Lakes" marketing name (Minnesota's state nickname is "Land of 10,000 Lakes").
The name became so popular that the organization's public identity was often confused with its product name; thus, in 1926, the organization itself adopted the name "Land O'Lakes Creameries, Inc." and became eponymous with its product.
The co-op was often accused of unfair competition and false advertising in its early years, and compelled to defend its inspection and certification processes. Eventually, however, the sweet butter marketing strategy drove competitors either to match the quality of butter produced under the Land O'Lakes name or see their sales decline. Many competitors in the dairy products business copied the Land O'Lakes approach, and the certification of quality became a proven marketing technique in other product lines as well.
The Land O'Lakes co-op has grown through numerous acquisitions, and now has a large business in farm supply in addition to dairy. In 2001, it paid $360 million - and assumed $130 million in debt - to take over animal feed producer Purina Mills, once part of Ralston Purina. Purina Mills' new owner planned to merge the company with its Land O'Lakes Farmland Feed division but would keep the Purina name and logo.
A federal court in 2002 ordered Land O'Lakes to pay $3 million for patent infringement to Dr William Pordy, the inventor of a type of dairy creamer. An appeal court later overturned that ruling.
In December, 2013 Land O' Lakes acquired Geosys, an international satellite imagery and remote sensing service provider headquartered in Toulouse, France and having offices in São Paulo, Brazil, Melbourne, Australia, and Plymouth, Minnesota. Geosys continues to work with WinField to develop a web-based decision making tool enabling its members to view remote sensing maps based on Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI), a measure of green biomass. Users of the web-based platform can see, at the field level, the health of their crop and make decisions regarding crop inputs, as well as the ability to use precision farming (variable rate application) techniques. Geosys offers additional products and services globally.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Land O' Lakes based in Hudson, Wisconsin is the transportation arm responsible for the transportation of milk and finished dairy products. The firm manages its own private fleet of nearly 200 tanker trucks, a contract fleet of an additional 600 trucks, and the Land O’Lakes private fleet of nearly 1,700 trucks.
The Land O'Lakes Indian maiden, named Mia holding the butter box was painted in 1928 by Brown & Bigelow illustrator Arthur C. Hanson. His original art hangs in the lobby of the Arden Hills office and depicts the maiden, Mia, in a pastoral scene with lakes, pines, flowers and grazing cows in the background. According to Land O'Lakes, the original Indian maiden, Mia, was "simplified and modernized" in 1939 by Jess Betlach and has undergone many minor modifications since as the enduring logo of the co-op. Red Lake Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait updated Mia's image in the 1950s. The package image is an example of the infinite-loop motif or Droste effect, in which the image is repeated, in theory infinitely, within itself.
In September 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video allegedly depicting animal abuse of dairy cows at a Pennsylvania supplier for Land O’Lakes, Inc. The video showed unclean conditions in the barn and milking parlor and cows with infections and illness. The supplier’s employee was found not guilty of animal cruelty charges resulting from this incident and an investigation by veterinarians hired by Land O’Lakes revealed no mistreatment of animals, but the veterinarians suggested that bedding, hygiene, ventilation and animal disposal practices be improved. Land O'Lakes states that it is supportive of the dairy industry’s National Dairy F.A.R.M.: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care standards.
In May 2017, the animal rights organization Compassion Over Killing released undercover footage of cruelty to animals at Land O’Lakes supplier Mason Dixon Farms, which documented "cows being kicked in the face, punched in their sensitive udders, excessively shocked with an electric prod, jabbed with a pens andor elbows, and having their tails twisted or bent by workers." The footage resulted in the firing of one employee.