By Jake Stukenberg, NFU Intern
Farming can be a daunting career to pursue, especially as a young farmer or rancher in the current farm economy. Given the various barriers to entry, most beginning farmers cannot succeed without the help of others. Having a place to collaborate, profit, and educate other farmers not only supports beginning farmers, but it is also a stepping stone toward a more well-rounded, economically sound agricultural region, state, nation, and world. One of the most well known business practices for creating this environment of collaboration and education is the cooperative business model.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Co-op Essentials Booklet, cooperatives “are a type of corporation. . .owned and controlled by the people who use its services.” Cooperatives operate under a set of principles called the Rochdale Principles. These principles were based off of one of the earliest known cooperatives, The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, after a failed attempt at getting higher wages for workers during the Textile Mills Worker Strike of 1843 in Rochdale, England. Twenty-eight men who were former mill workers started a small food store to combat the high prices of food in their area. They only sold butter, sugar, flour, and oatmeal, but they survived the winter of 1844 because of their cheaper food prices that citizens of Rochdale turned to.
This early coop set a precedent on how cooperatives should be operated and these principles still stand as the business model for modern cooperatives. As time has gone on, different types of coops have formed. Some of the most common forms of coops are service coops, marketing coops, and purchasing coops.
As young farmers begin their service to the world of agriculture, it can be comforting to know that there are ways that they can prosper together through being a member of a coop.
Are you a part of a cooperative? Does it benefit your production as a young or beginning farmer? Let us know what you experience in the comments below.