Something to Celebrate

October 11, 2012

With less than a month left in the 2012 presidential campaign, most of the country is in a pretty dark place—metaphorically speaking.

Never before have candidates had so many ways in which to communicate all the mistakes their opponents have made—and so much time to do it in. Negative ads about unemployment, the national debt and foreign policy blunders have dominated the airwaves, front pages and Twitter feeds, making it hard for Americans to feel too good about the state of the nation.

But there are people and industries nationwide, who have learned to work together and are worth celebrating. Perhaps the most obvious (and most ironic) contrast to the political gridlock in Washington was brought to our attention last week, when the USDA announced the start of National Cooperative Month.

Despite dealing with some doom and gloom of its own in the form of floods, freezes and record-setting drought, rural America remains a thriving economic engine, and it’s due in part to the agricultural cooperative business model.

Dallas Tonsager, under secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kicked off National Cooperative Month, by announcing that in 2011, net income before taxes for all agricultural co-ops was a record $5.4 billion—up more than 25 percent from 2010.

Before we’re accused of boasting about farmers’ riches, we should add that production expenses increased by double-digits as well. Nevertheless, Tonsager pointed out that the record-setting sales are a welcome sign of a healthy, American industry.

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, Tonsager said he learned the importance of cooperatives at a very early age. The electric, water and fertilizer for his family’s farm all came from co-ops. And when their dairy cows had been milked, it was well-known cooperative Land O’Lakes, Inc. who bought their product.

“Practically every resource we got and every sale we made came from a co-op institution,” he said. Not to mention the cooperative-run farm credit that so many in agriculture rely on for support.

“Rural America is driven by cooperative institutions,” Tonsager continued, pointing out that they often serve and employ people in areas that might not otherwise be within reach of the private sector.

When asked if cooperatives specifically benefit the farmers experiencing severe drought, Tonsager explained that it’s the dedication to community that sets cooperatives apart from other business models. “When things are good [members of a cooperative] tend to build their capital up and get ready for the times when things are tough.”

“The stability in these co-ops created by resources they’ve accumulated will help all rural Americans get through a difficult year,” he said.

It’s refreshing to see Americans working together toward a common goal. Now, if only our presidential candidates would pay more attention when they’re swinging through some of these swing states.

To see a list of the nation’s 100 top cooperatives, click here.