USDA's Commitment to Cooperative Education

Article excerpt

Cooperatives are different from other forms of business because they are organized according to fundamental, immutable tenets known as cooperative principles. As mandated by the Cooperative Marketing Act of 1926, the USDA/RBS Cooperative Services program takes seriously its responsibility to promote knowledge of cooperative principles, as well as other cooperative practices. Cooperative education has been a mainstay of USDA's co-op program for 75 years.

This long timespan alone might make one logically surmise that knowledge of cooperative principles and practices should, by the year 2001, be well ingrained in the American business and farm culture. However, reality is far different. Even third- and fourth-generation cooperative members often have only a superficial understanding of cooperative principles. Thus, education on cooperative principles and practices is as important today as it ever was.

With changing demographics and scope and structure of agri-business, a highly competitive business environment, complex decisions for producers and new concepts such as new-generation (value-added) cooperatives, there is still a critical need for cooperative education.

Co-op education improves odds of success

Cooperative education continues to be necessary for a number of reasons. When a co-op education program is well developed and wide-reaching, it should: 1) provide a higher probability for a successful cooperative; 2) provide producers with sufficient understanding of cooperatives as a form of business enterprise to make an informed assessment of a whether to pursue the cooperative business option; and 3) provide improved understanding for individuals, the public and policymakers leading to continued support for cooperatives.

Cooperatives are more likely to be successful when their members fully understand their responsibilities to cooperative principles and the practices they involve. Odds of success for a coop also improve when the public knows how cooperatives work and can see their benefits to members and to communities, and when young people learn what cooperatives are and how they operate so that their interest in cooperatives takes hold.

When groups of producers and/or rural residents looking to develop a business idea fully understand the unique workings and benefits of cooperatives, they are better able to adequately assess the cooperative model as a potential option for prospective business endeavors.

When responsible individuals working in the public arena or making policy have a solid understanding of cooperatives, they are able to clearly see the value cooperatives bring to individuals and their industry. They are then in a better position to debate and formulate cooperative-related support, policy and law.

Education activity

Cooperative Services provides cooperative education in a number of ways. Education is proffered through a wide variety of booklets and research reports and Cooperative Services' own bimonthly magazine, Rural Cooperatives. These publications are available both in hard copy and on the Internet. Educational materials and programs developed for high school and other ag-education programs have also been widely distributed. Videos for use by cooperative educators are available, as well. Cooperative Services acts as a library for much of the cooperative community by housing and providing a vast array of materials about many aspects of the cooperative way of doing business.

Cooperative Services research on numerous relevant cooperative topics add to the literature on cooperatives which contribute to overall education and knowledge about cooperatives. …