Farmer-owned co-ops are a foundation of the local farm economy. Chuck Conner, with the National Council of Farmer Co-ops, says these organizations provide benefits to all of rural American today by creating jobs and economic activity, “Co-ops today generate about $250 billion in sales and provide over 250,000 jobs.” In Indiana, he said 5,000 people are directly employed by farm co-ops.
While there have been some lean times, Conner says most farm co-ops are very strong financially, “Co-ops are doing business in large quantities to meet the demands of their farmer customers and returning record dividends to their members.” He added that the basic goal of co-ops — to serve and bring value to their farmer customers and members — has not changed, “That is what we are still all about, serving farmers.”
Farmer co-ops began as a way to provide inputs to their members at lower costs. Today, they operate in a global market but still maintain that function of providing inputs to their farmer members. “Now many of those inputs come from around the world,” Conner told HAT. “Fertilizer, for example, is delivered to farmers in the US from all over the world.” He added that co-ops help farmers do together what they could not accomplish on their own.
The Year of the Farmer Co-op will showcase how America’s farmer-owned businesses enable their producer-members to thrive in a global marketplace; how they create jobs and economic growth across rural America; and how they provide consumers with a safe, abundant, and affordable supply of food and fiber. As our part of IYC, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives is celebrating 2012 as the Year of the Farmer Co-op. Over the course of the year, NCFC and our members will highlight the role that farmer-owned co-ops play in giving family farmers across the country an ownership stake in the food and agriculture system from the farm gate all the way to grocery store shelves.