Letter to the Editor

Members still the foundation of rural Iowa coops

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Across rural Iowa, farmer-owned cooperatives are contracting in response to agriculture's continually changing landscape. Today, Iowa is home to 57 agriculture cooperatives. That number was more than 200 when I first began in the cooperative system three decades ago.

Regardless of the quantity of cooperatives or their size, what matters most is the unchanging foundation for the cooperative business model: ownershipand governance by the members.

As we celebrate October's Co-op Month, the sustained strength of Iowa's farmer-owned cooperatives deserves significant mention; a strength which has and continues to be driven by membership.

This enduring business structure was built to serve and be governed by its member owners. Still today, the voice of every member is heard through the voting process. In Iowa, for two cooperatives to merge, at least 50 percent of the members of each organization must vote and two-thirds of those voting must approve.

The unifications in Iowa most often are combining two healthy, sound businesses. These mergers, of which we have seen more than a dozen in Iowa in the last five years, occur to help cooperatives navigate changing workforce, pressures of the agriculture supply chain, and create financial flexibility to meet the capital expenditure needs of customer demands.Just as we would love to have a stand-alone school or grocery store in every town, even in the cooperative system, consolidation and change occur to keep pace.

The important factor to remember is that when you are called upon to voteas a member-owner, your vote is necessaryand a crucial part of being member-governed.