Entrepreneurial attitude

     In addition to a strong cooperative heritage, many producers in the region began to assume a more entrepreneurial attitude at the beginning of the 1990s.  Lee Egerstrom, journalist and author of Make no small plans: A cooperative revival for rural America, described the transformation as follows: “Many farmers in these areas have acquired a new mind-set concerning how they fit into the food system.  New generation cooperatives are an offensive tool.  The farmer figures that if he has to live with volatile markets for his commodities, it could be in his interest to move closer to the consumer, to capture more of the consumer food dollar, by processing his own commodities” (Sjerven).  The director of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s marketing division noted that many producers seemed to prefer the risk of making an investment in a value-added cooperative to the risk of waiting to see whether someone else would provide higher commodity prices (Groshen).  Some producers might have felt that investing in a cooperative was a more attractive alternative to buying or renting more cropland, especially at a time when the costs of production were likely to be greater than the market price for the crop (Hegland).  In contrast to preceding cooperatives, new generation cooperatives were seen as aggressive and proactive in nature.

     Producers who were more likely to invest in value-added cooperatives have been identified by several studies.  A report on value-added agriculture issued by the Northern Great Plains Rural Development Commission, a group established by U.S. Congress to study the economic development needs of the region, noted that “younger and more aggressive” farmers were likely to be investors in farmer-owned cooperatives.  The report went on to say that this type of farmer was “more strongly oriented to consumer markets, and looks for new opportunities to create personal and local wealth” and that he understood “the changing agricultural landscape” (Northern Great Plains Rural Development Commission).  A study conducted by North Dakota State University sought to compare the characteristics of farmers who became members of new generation cooperatives to those who did not.  The results indicated that, on average, members were younger and tended to have higher levels of education and higher net worth than nonmembers.  Members also displayed a stronger attitude than nonmembers that their role within the agricultural industry extended beyond the production stage and into the food processing and distributing stages (Olson).

     Bill Patrie referred to the importance of the attitude of the region’s farmers in his USDA report entitled Creating ‘Co-op Fever’: A rural developer’s guide to forming cooperatives.  When describing the reasons for the increased cooperative activity in North Dakota during the 1990s, he wrote: “The causes of ‘Co-op Fever’ are multiple, but the courage, intelligence, and willingness of farmers in the Upper Plains to take a risk for reasonable returns is perhaps the single greatest reason for this phenomenon” (Patrie). 

References

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