What is a Co-op?
Co-ops are producer- and user-owned businesses that are controlled by -- and operate for the benefit of -- their members, rather than outside investors. The co-op business model is highly flexible and can address a wide variety of needs. Farmer-owned co-ops help producer-members market and process their crops and livestock, and secure needed production supplies and services. Consumer-owned rural utility co-ops provide electrical power and telecommunications services. Financial co-ops provide credit and financial services. Other co-ops operate food stores, hardware, and building supply businesses, and provide education, daycare and health services, among many other things. Please see our Co-ops 101 Booklet (PDF, 5.25MB) for a more in-depth discussion about what co-ops are.
How Does USDA Help Co-ops?
USDA has long been the leading advocate for cooperatives in rural America. The goal of the Cooperative Programs of USDA Rural Development is to promote understanding and use of the cooperative form of business. This is accomplished through education (including a large library of co-op publications), research and statistics, and technical assistance. We also administer programs that provide financial support to co-ops. Please visit the Co-ops Programs website for a more in-depth discussion about USDA's Cooperative Programs. You may also visit the Rural Utilities Service webpage for more information about the Rural Utilities Program of USDA Rural Development and the services it provides to utility co-ops.
Some other USDA agencies also have programs that help cooperatives, including the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service which is now known as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).