By Brittany Jablonsky, NFU Government Relations Representative
NFU is proud to join the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Senate and countless other agricultural, consumer, business and social justice organizations worldwide in celebrating 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. The NFU board of directors recently adopted a Co-op resolution recognizing this special event.
Farmer-, consumer- and worker-owned cooperatives play a vital role in rural America’s continued economic growth and development; more than 29,000 American cooperative businesses contribute 2 million jobs, $652 billion of revenue, and $3 trillion of assets to the U.S. economy each year. These data don’t take into account the millions of dollars generated and more than one billion members served by co-ops around the world.
NFU (originally known as the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America) has a long history of supporting the development of farmer-owned cooperatives as a way for farmers to add value to the food, fiber and energy they produce, beginning with the development of a Farmers Union marketing cooperative in 1903, one year after the organization’s inception. In later years, NFU launched the Farmers Union Terminal Association and the Farmers Union Central Exchange, which today have grown into CHS, Inc., a Fortune 100 agricultural cooperative. NFU was also instrumental in the development of the national rural electric cooperative system and the passage of the Capper-Volstead Act, critical legislation stating farmer-owned cooperatives do not constitute a violation of antitrust laws.
Co-ops, which are owned and controlled by their members, differ from regular businesses, as their primary aim is to serve their member-owners’ needs. Cooperative principles such as open, voluntary membership, democratic control, members’ economic participation, a focus on education and concern for community needs allow cooperative businesses to focus on their patrons, not their profits. Today, the cooperative business model has been expanded beyond the farm sector to serve the needs of many different industries, consumers and patrons who want to enjoy the benefits of a business that they own and control.
Many Farmers Union states are planning special cooperative activities and events to be held as part of the 2012 celebration; sign up for NFU’s e-newsletter or contact your state Farmers Union office for more details.