October is Cooperative Month, and this year’s theme is “The Co-op Connection,” an apt reference to the virtually unlimited number of ways in which co-ops connect their members to marketplaces and services they might otherwise be unable to access.
America is home to more than 30,000 cooperatives, including farmer, rural utility, credit/financial services, food stores, housing and many other types of cooperatives. To get an idea of just how flexible the co-op business model is in meeting virtually any need, see the Co-op Month special section of the Sept.-Oct. issue of USDA’s “Rural Cooperatives” magazine at: www.rurdev.usda.gov (under the “Spotlights” section of the home page).
It is estimated that the entire U.S. co-op sector generates more than $650 billion annually for the nation’s economy. These co-ops range in size from businesses included on the Fortune 500 to tiny co-ops that may only have a dozen or fewer members. Regardless of size or purpose, all cooperatives exist only to benefit their member-owners and their communities, not to generate profits for distant shareholders.
Agricultural co-ops alone accounted for $246 billion in sales in 2013, topping the previous record year of 2012 by about $8 billion. Ag co-ops also posted net income before taxes of $6.2 billion, a 1- percent gain over 2012. Both the sales and net income before taxes figures represent a third consecutive year of record-breaking performance by agricultural co-ops.
There were about 2,200 U.S. agricultural co-ops in 2013, which farmers and ranchers own and control to help them market and/or process their crops and livestock, or to purchase their production supplies and agronomy services from.
Co-ops are also a major source of jobs. In 2013, ag co-ops increased their workforce to 136,000 full-time employees, up by about 7,000 from 2012. Counting seasonal workers, they employed 191,000 people. In many rural towns, ag co-ops are the major employer. Co-ops are also a major source of income for their communities through the real estate, sales and other taxes they pay.
Throughout Cooperative Month, we’ll have more posts highlighting the impact of cooperatives on our nation’s economy. To learn more about how co-ops help forge vital economic and social connections for their members, visit: www.rurdev.usda.gov/LP_CoopPrograms.html.