Happy National Co-Op Month! It’s reason to celebrate because in America there are more than 40,000 cooperatives of all types, supporting jobs that provide more than $25 billion in wages. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin (PDF, 2.7 MB), funded in part by USDA, cooperatives have an estimated 350 million members. (Many people belong to more than one cooperative.)
USDA has several programs that directly and indirectly benefit cooperatives and the people who depend on them every day. There are many types of cooperatives. Agricultural co-ops are an important subset. America’s farmer cooperatives are setting records. They directly employ more than 187,000 Americans in more than 8,800 locations. Gross business volume for ag cooperatives was up $6.7 billion in 2018 compared to the year before, and farmer cooperatives had a record $96.3 billion in assets and a record $44.4 billion in farmer-member equity.
The largest number of farmer cooperatives are in Minnesota, followed by Texas, North Dakota, California and Wisconsin. Farm cooperatives did the most business in Iowa ($18.3 billion) followed by Minnesota ($16.2 billion), California, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The theme for this year’s co-op month is “Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community.” Here at USDA we take that to heart, helping co-ops grow. For example:
In the Southwest Wisconsin community of Viroqua, population 4,300, USDA partnered with the Bank of Cashton to provide a loan to construct an addition to the Viroqua Food Co-op. Completed last year, the expansion allowed the cooperative to expand offerings of locally and regionally produced food. About 33 percent of co-op revenue is generated from food products that are sourced within 100 miles of Viroqua.
Aquaculture co-ops are also growing with USDA support. In Maine, the members of Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op on Little Cranberry Island agreed unanimously to install a solar renewable energy system. Now, thanks to a USDA Rural Energy for America Grant, the system is operating and will produce 110 percent of the co-op’s power. This will save $8,000 annually.
The 26 boat owners in the co-op have a workforce of 65. That amounts to substantial employment in an area with a year-round population of 140. Lobstermen haul 400 traps a day, and thanks to a USDA Community Connect Grant funded last year for the community’s Neighborhood House, the co-op can now connect to the internet, making it possible to market lobsters directly to restaurants and stores across the country.
Sometime this month, maybe even today, stop by your local cooperative or take in a Co-op Month event. Chances are you’ll meet a neighbor. Cooperatives are a vital contributor to the American economy and way of life. Nationally observed since 1964, Co-op Month is a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions made by those who work in or benefit from co-ops.