Farm Cooperatives in the U.S.: A Snapshot Through Time

Just recently there was a lively discussion of cooperatives on one of the discussion groups I subscribe to, so I thought I would trace at least one of them:  Farm Cooperatives.  I had to narrow it down because, much to my surprise, there is a wealth of information out there.  In this particular case I went to the USDA web site and they have an entire section on cooperatives.  Furthermore, they have statistics with long term trends, some beginning with 1913.

The next task was to narrow down the data from “Farm Cooperatives” in general to just one out of all the kinds of farm cooperatives they have data for.  In this very narrow category, I assembled data for Farm Cooperatives specializing in marketing, farm supplies and services, a very narrow category indeed, since there are ones for rice and corn and machinery and everything else imaginable in the world of farms.

So, here is a graph of the number of these particular cooperatives from nearly the beginning of the 20th century until 2002.

So, the next question was, if there was such a precipituous decline in the number of coops in this category, what was happening to the membership during this period.  Not surprisingly, it was in decline as well, but with a different envelope.  Here is that graph.

Finally, one might ask, what was the average membership for each of these coop organizations?  One would think that it, too, might be declining, but noo, it was going the other way around.  Here is the graph for that.

So, we might conclude that there was a consolidation and concentration going on.  But that is only part of the story.  Stay tuned for the tangled web, and perhaps a few hints that the coop movement may be on the move again.


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