By Charles F. Conner
Some of America’s best loved brands—Land O’Lakes butter, Blue Diamond almonds, Welch’s grape juice, Riceland, and Sunkist oranges, to name a few—come from cooperatives that are wholly owned by the men and women who actually grow the crops. The old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention” could reasonably describe the advent and growth of farmer cooperatives in the United States. Farmers recognized that there was strength in numbers, so they organized cooperatives to help them overcome the vagaries of the marketplace. By joining together, farmers could reduce the costs of production, better market their crops, increase their bargaining power, capitalize on new opportunities, and distribute their products more efficiently. For more than a 100 years, they have served as the quiet heartbeat of U.S. agriculture helping millions of farmers and ranchers build strong, successful operations. Today there are nearly 3,000 farmer cooperatives whose members include a majority of our nation’s farmers and ranchers. Cooperatives are a true American success story.
Recent research conducted by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives found that farmers who work with a cooperative are five times more likely to expand their operations than those who don’t. Earlier research conducted by the University of Illinois found that farmers in the Midwest who were co-op members earned nearly $6,000 more in income each year than their non-co-op neighbors.
Further, they support strong rural economies by providing jobs and partnering with private companies, government and nonprofits to bolster infrastructure, improve educational opportunities, and spur economic activity. Farmer cooperatives collectively have over 300,000 employees with a combined payroll in excess of $10 billion. In the global marketplace, brand recognition helps drive demand for U.S. products overseas and builds strong export markets.
Despite these achievements, the story of American cooperatives is often overlooked. That is why we are proud to partner with Farm Policy Facts in putting a spotlight on the cooperative businesses that are transforming communities from coast to coast. In the coming months, we will be sharing the stories of individual farmer cooperatives that are making a difference in the lives of their farmer-members and rural economies.
Charles Conner is the President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.