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Focus on cooperation

Written by stevefairchild on .

An issue to celebrate National Cooperative Month

October is Cooperative Month, and, in fact, 2012 has been designated by the United Nations and U.S. Congress as the International Year of Cooperatives. Much of the UN’s celebration focuses on cooperatives in developing nations where collaborative effort is helping to build local economies where capital investment and bargaining power are difficult to come by. There is much to do there, and the principles of a cooperative are a unique help.

Here in the United States, the utility of the cooperative business model is well documented, and, because you are reading this page, you are aware of the rich history of MFA Incorporated in this nation’s cooperative movement. In this issue we take the opportunity to focus on snapshots of what makes your cooperative work.

We begin on page 6 with an interview with Dr. Michael Cook, the Robert D. Partridge Chair in Cooperative Leadership and professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri.

Cook’s research on cooperatives has returned to a theme—that farmer-owned cooperatives have the ability to evolve and regenerate. He calls it “co-op genius.” Much of that “genius” comes from the member/owners’ implicit trust that their investment and participation in a cooperative business will help direct the business to meet their needs.

Examining the evolution of products and services offered by MFA since the early 1900s helps illustrate that fact. A 1920s farm required a different set of inputs than the farm of today. Yet MFA has remained constant in its mission to provide farmers with what they need to farm. MFA turns 100 in 2014, which will give us an opportunity to re-tell the story of your cooperative in more detail.

On page 18, you’ll find a short recognition for the contributions independent, local cooperatives make to the MFA system. These cooperatives choose to affiliate with MFA, leveraging our products, services and expertise on behalf of their members. Many of them are achieving notable anniversaries of their own. Here at MFA, we are fortunate to have benefited from cooperating with these affiliated locations.

On page 20, we continue with an ongoing series to show you snapshots of your cooperative in action by visiting the Marion County Agri Services. The pictures of employees you see in this series of stories show the true strength of MFA. They are the people who deliver the cooperative’s mission to its members.

From the activity at Marion County MFA Agri Services to our business units in Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa and across our trade territory, MFA is part of a much larger success story for ag cooperatives in the United States.

All told, some 2,500 farmer cooperatives in the United States hold $40 billion in assets and turn over about $130 billion in sales each year. That income provides close to $9 billion in wages. Spread across some 2.5 million farmer members, these cooperatives provide another $10 billion in value-added income.

And that’s just agricultural cooperatives. If you widen the scope, you’ll see that more than 29,000 cooperatives operate in every sector of the economy and in every congressional district; Americans hold over 350 million co-op memberships. These cooperatives generate 2 million jobs and make a substantial contribution to the U.S. economy with annual sales of $652 billion and assets of $3 trillion.

Apart from agricultural cooperatives, most of you participate in rural electric co-ops. There are more than 900 of them nation wide, delivering electricity to more than 42 million people in 47 states. These co-ops own 42 percent of the nation’s electric distribution lines and cover 75 percent of the country’s land mass.

We close the magazine (pg. 28) with the traditional letter from MFA’s president and CEO, Bill Streeter. He outlines the vision of MFA’s leadership succinctly, and shows that the cooperative takes seriously the need to grow, evolve and change with the realities that you face each day in agriculture.

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