By Jake Stukenberg, NFU Intern

Cooperatives can provide services and products that help young and beginning farmers start up their own operations. Whether you are a dairy farmer, a grain farmer, or even a consumer in need of some tools, there are a variety of cooperatives, both regionally and nationally, that can cater to your needs.

Dairy cooperatives and their passionate members have helped make Wisconsin’s dairy industry among the largest in the nation, second only to California’s. Foremost Farms, a dairy cooperative based in Baraboo, Wisconsin, defines a dairy cooperative as “a business, which is owned and controlled by the dairy farmers who produce the milk used by the cooperative.” The company works with dairy producers all over Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of Iowa and Minnesota to access strong markets, create high quality dairy products, and receive a competitive price for their milk.

The result of a merger between two other cooperatives, Foremost Farms started operating in 1995. The company specialized in fluid milk and sour cream until 2009, at which point it switched its focus to processing and marketing cheese, dairy ingredients, and butter. Today, Foremost Farms uses around 5 billion pounds of milk a year, making markets available for any producer, no matter how small or new the farm is.

Grain and agronomic cooperatives can similarly provide many services to its member-owners. One such cooperative is Agtegra, which provides many services to its farmers across South Dakota and parts of North Dakota, including marketing and storage of grain, custom spraying of pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide, fuel services for propane and diesel, feed services, and rentals of equipment such as corral systems and cattle tubs. These services might be otherwise unavailable in some areas.

Some cooperatives benefit farmers and non-farmers alike. ACE Hardware, a retail cooperative, is a nationally recognized hardware chain with thousands of stores across the United States. The company was founded in 1924 by group of hardware store owners in Chicago, Illinois. By banding together, the store owners were able to purchase merchandise in bulk and at lower prices. ACE sells tools, paints, lawn care, and many other home improvement materials in stores all over the U.S., from large metropolitan areas to very rural towns. This gives growers of any size access to affordable tools when they need them.

Do you know of any other cooperatives across the nation that provide great services to young or beginning farmers? Please share in the comment section below.

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