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Farmer Co-ops: Taking a Seat at Our Table

As well as helping them market and process their crops, co-ops also help farmers obtain farm supplies and provide them with important agronomy services, such as mapping their fields to ensure they use only the proper amounts of fertilizer, thus avoiding runoff problems.  Photo courtesy GROWMARK

As well as helping them market and process their crops, co-ops also help farmers obtain farm supplies and provide them with important agronomy services, such as mapping their fields to ensure they use only the proper amounts of fertilizer, thus avoiding runoff problems. Photo courtesy GROWMARK

The famous chef and food writer James Beard once said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”  From our potluck dinners to an after-church brunch, food is the tangible connection between us and our communities.  Studies have shown the positive impact family dinners have on the individuals who take part in them.

Despite its importance and necessity in our lives, many Americans have limited knowledge of how food gets to the dining table.  Farming has evolved greatly over the decades, with the variety, quality, availability, and affordability of food improving steadily.  What may surprise you is that these improvements in food production and supply exist in large measure because individual farmers formed cooperatives to remain competitive in an ever-changing agriculture environment.

For more than 100 years, farmer-owned cooperatives have provided individual farmers with a stake in the marketplace. Farmer co-ops are made up of thousands of individual farmers that work together to succeed in a global marketplace.  Whether a farmer has 40 acres of oranges or 4,000 acres of soybeans, co-ops allow farmers to pool their risks and better manage agriculture’s volatility.

Co-ops also provide their members with all of the tools necessary to run successful farming operations, including credit, financing, feed, seed, fertilizer, fuel and other crop production products.  Farmers and ranchers sit on, and govern, their co-op boards and guide or make all important decisions. This hands-on level of involvement ensures that co-ops are accountable to their farmer-members and the American public.

Some of the most innovative products and recognizable brands on grocery store shelves are co-op creations, providing members with the opportunity to directly participate in the food and fiber system, from the farm to retail. Whether it’s grains, dairy, meat, fruits, nuts or vegetables, farmers rely on co-ops to help them grow, process, market and deliver Americans’ meals.

And the benefits go well beyond the farm.  Farmer co-ops provide 180,000 jobs across America, with a total payroll in excess of $8 billion. Profits of the co-ops are returned to their members and cycle through their local communities, fueling economic growth.

Supporting farmer co-ops means building stronger communities and a stronger America.  So this October, during Co-op Month, remember all that farmers and farmer co-ops have done to make your meal possible.

Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated October as National Cooperative Month.  Click here to read the proclamation.  Click here to read a letter by President Obama about cooperatives.

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