PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — New England's largest egg producer is in negotiations to sell its operations to Minnesota-based Land O' Lakes, a Maine lawmaker said during a legislative debate.
The possible sale of Jack DeCoster's egg operations in Turner, Maine, came to light while lawmakers debated a bill that would remove the right of DeCoster's workers to unionize. A spokesman for DeCoster confirmed to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that Land O' Lakes has expressed an interest.
Chris Grimbilas, DeCoster's assistant, said Friday the operations are profitable and there have been suitors. He declined to discuss Land O' Lakes, other than to say there's been no deal.
"There have been suitors in the past and there'll be suitors in the future," Grimbilas said. "It's a valuable property and a profitable operation."
Land O' Lakes said it doesn't comment on "rumors or speculation in the marketplace."
Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon Falls, told other lawmakers about the possible sale during Thursday's debate on the bill, which passed along party lines by a 74-68 vote. Federal law prohibits most agricultural workers from unionizing, but some states including Maine have laws that allow for collective bargaining at agricultural facilities that are more factory than farm.
Crafts told the Sun Journal of Lewiston that he thought revealing the negotiations would help move along the bill for people who don't like DeCoster.
DeCoster's Maine egg farm a year ago had 76 barns where hens produced 3.5 million eggs a day. His operation over the years has faced allegations of hiring illegal workers, violating human rights and abusing chickens. His Iowa egg farm last summer recalled 380 million eggs after it was linked to more than 1,000 cases of salmonella poisoning.
Don Hoenig, Maine's state veterinarian, said he's heard rumors the egg farm might be sold.
"It's the worst-kept secret in agriculture right now," he said.