The USDA on Tuesday released new data on farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives, finding that in 2013, sales increased by 4% over 2012 and jobs increased by 5%.
This is the third consecutive year of record sales by ag cooperatives, USDA said. It is complementary to growth experienced by the farm economy in 2013.
"These sales and net income records for ag cooperatives, combined with strong gains in employees for 2013, underscore the strength and productivity of the nation's farmer- and rancher-owned cooperatives," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency statement. "These co-ops play a vital and growing role in the nation's economy."
October is the start of National Cooperative Month. According to USDA, there are about 30,000 cooperatives nationwide, including those that deal in electricity and communications services, financial and credit services, housing and other sectors.
At latest count, 2,186 of those cooperatives are ag-based. That number is down from 2,236 in 2012. USDA said mergers account for most of the drop, resulting in larger cooperatives.
Producers held 2 million memberships in cooperatives in 2013, down about 7% from 2012. While the number of cooperative memberships is slightly less than the number of U.S. farms, USDA notes that previous studies have found that many farmers and ranchers are members of up to three cooperatives, so farm numbers and cooperative memberships are not strictly comparable.
In addition to marketing and processing their members' crops and livestock, co-ops are also major players in the farm supply market. Co-op sales of petroleum, feed, seed and crop protectants were all up in 2013. Fertilizer sales declined, the only major farm supply to see sales drop in 2013.
With grain and oilseed prices generally lower in 2014, it appears unlikely that co-ops will set a fourth consecutive sales record when the results are tallied next year, USDA said. However, livestock, poultry and dairy producers and their co-ops will benefit from lower feed costs, which should offset at least some of the decline in revenue from grain and oilseed sales.
While 33 ag cooperatives recorded more than $1 billion in sales in 2013, 33% (726 co-ops) had less than $5 million in sales.
The value of cooperative assets fell in 2013 by almost $1 billion, with liabilities decreasing by $5.3 billion and owner equity gaining $4.5 billion. Equity capital still remains low but is clearly showing an upward trend, with a 15% increase over the previous year, USDA said.
Patronage income (refunds from other cooperatives due to sales between cooperatives) increased by almost 33%, to $1.2 billion, up from $900 million in 2012.
In all, farm cooperatives last year employed 191,000 people, counting seasonal jobs. Nearly 7,000 more jobs were created by agricultural co-ops in 2013.
News source: USDA