Cooperatives offer economic advantages

Farm Forum

For consumers, it’s become popular to join a food co-op or a credit union. In some areas, cooperative agreements provide a share in fresh food products. Such associations have a long history in developing rural America by investing in communities.

People joining together to accomplish a common goal make a lot of sense. As our ancestors settled this area, many formed cooperative associations, and the importance of these groups continues today.

Through the years, many services have been provided for each of us in rural America, and the of the greatest of these is electrical power. The efforts of electrical cooperatives in the 1930 and 1940s, this vital service was brought to rural America to illuminate our homes. Many of those efforts opened up new avenues for agriculture. The electrical grid and telephone service helped to connect families and make life easier for those living in rural areas.

I was immersed in cooperative ideals through some of the leadership camps I attended while in high school. Some of those basics stayed with me.

Cooperatives trace the roots of these principles back to the first modern cooperative formed in England in 1844. Coop principles include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, economic participation by members, autonomy and independence, education and concern for community. Those vital principles continue to be evident in today’s agriculture.

When I first moved to Frederick in 1977, I helped with a history book for the area. On the pages were stories detailing many of the groups that banded together for a common purpose. Cooperatives were the main driving force in the community. I learned about the Equity Exchange Elevator, Frederick Mercantile, Coop Oil, Shipping Exchange, Savo Creamery, the local credit union and the coop telephone company. It seemed that many facets of business were covered in these groups. As small towns have dwindled, many of the groups have joined with other like organizations to provide these basic services.

Often, small coops such as those in Frederick merged with others to create a better way to serve customers. In Frederick, a series of mergers resulted in what is now Full Circle Coop, headquartered in Britton. It supplies ag products and services and employs personnel to provide these services.

In other areas, coops have grown even larger. South Dakota cooperatives have flourished through their hard work in serving their communities.

In the agriculture sector, last year’s grain prices propelled some of the cooperatives to handle an amazing numbers of bushels, resulting in millions of dollars moving through these companies.

The National Coop Bank recently named two South Dakota grain cooperatives among the top 100 cooperatives in the United States.

South Dakota Wheat Growers Association of Aberdeen is ranked at No. 11 with 2013 revenue at $2.132 billion, up from $1.829 billion in 2012. The 2013 assets are listed at $696 million.

In Ipswich, North Central Farmers Elevator is listed at No. 40 with 2013 revenue at $906 million, up from $725 million in 2012. The 2013 assets are listed at $267 million.

The top two cooperatives are Minnesota-based CHS Inc. and Land O’ Lakes, both of St. Paul. Dairy Farmers Incorporated, based in Kansas City, Missouri, is ranked third, and GROWMARK of Illinois comes in fourth. Rounding out the top five is Ag Processing Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska. These are familiar names to those in agriculture and provide services for many across the state through local cooperatives.

In the United States, there are 30,000 cooperative businesses, serving more than 350 million members, generating more than $650 billion in annual revenues. The businesses account for more than 2 million jobs. For the whole list, see

The cooperative business model remains a “best-kept secret” for far too many people. Coops connect with each other, their communities and their members.