Cooperative Programs

Cooperatives are an essential part of the U.S. economy, especially in rural communities and areas. In addition to helping farmers and ranchers market their products and acquire farm supplies, cooperatives help meet many other needs, such as supplying electricity, telecommunications, credit and financial services, housing, food, hardware and building supplies, among other services. Co-ops are usually organized to meet a need that the marketplace is not fulfilling adequately.

USDA Cooperative Programs is the nation’s major source for information about cooperatives. Our library of more than 150 co-op publications – many of which are available in hard copy, as well as online – range from basic co-op primers, such as “Co-ops 101,” to in-depth reports on technical topics, such as “Tax Law for Cooperatives,” to reports that focus on co-op economic theory, such as “The Nature of the Cooperative.” To access these publications, please see Publications for Cooperatives.

USDA helps rural residents form new cooperatives and improve the operations of existing ones through the following services:

Education – USDA Cooperative Programs develops educational reports and programs that promote the understanding of cooperative principles and practices. Our publications and other educational products are used for or by:

  • Helping people decide if they should form a co-op, and how to do so;
  • Agriculture and business classes taught in secondary schools and colleges;
  • Cooperative director training and member education;
  • Enhancing the skills of co-op mangers and other co-op employees;
  • Professionals who work with co-ops, such as accountants, lawyers and consultants;
  • Extension agents and economic development practitioners;
  • Youth groups of all types, such as FFA and 4H.
  • Trade associations and co-op councils.

To access our educational publications, please see Publications for Cooperatives and filter on the subject tags “Education and Development,” “Most Requested Publications,” or “Cooperative Information Report.”

“Rural Cooperatives” magazine is USDA’s award-winning, bi-monthly magazine that contains articles and news items relevant to all types of cooperatives. The November/December issue of each year contains an index referencing all of the magazine articles that appeared that year. To access Rural Cooperativesmagazine, please see Rural Cooperatives Magazine .

Funding for Cooperatives - In conjunction with other Rural Development program areas, we provide financial assistance opportunities that are available to assist rural businesses, including cooperatives, and agricultural producers.

Cooperative Data and Statistics – We collect financial and other data from the nearly 1,500 farmer, rancher, fishery and bargaining cooperatives annually.

Cooperative listings:

Cooperative Data:

Research – Our research provides support to cooperatives and their member-owners dealing with a wide variety of issues. This research provides a knowledge base to support cooperatives dealing with current and emerging issues, including:

  • Changing markets and business trends
  • Economic activities of cooperatives
  • Financing and financial structure
  • Legal and tax policy
  • Issues and practices in cooperative education
  • Management and operations
  • Member governance
  • Policy
  • Sociological aspects of cooperation
  • Structure and organization.

Our staff includes agricultural economists and rural sociologists who analyze and document the operations, practices and organizational structures of all types of cooperatives - agricultural, consumer, financial and worker. To access our research reports, please see Publications for Cooperatives and filter on the category “Research Reports” or “Service Reports.”

Technical Assistance. Technical assistance with cooperative issues may be obtained by contacting coopinfo@wdc.usda.gov, your State Office, or a Rural Cooperative Development Center which are partially funded through USDA.

Hot Topics: Recorded Cooperative Informational Presentations. These recent co-op educational presentations have been recorded for the general public to access.

  • Intro to Cooperative Development
    Margaret Bau, a cooperative development expert, hosted this webinar to teach the basics about what exactly a Co-op is, and the collective benefits co-ops generate for diverse communities all around the world.

  • Using the Co-op Model to Build Capacity in High Poverty Rural Communities 
    When times are tough, people get creative. Co-ops are a powerful tool to help people achieve together what they cannot accomplish individually.

  • A Historical Perspective on African American Cooperatives
    Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s Collective Courage makes a very strong case for the historical and continuing importance of cooperatives as a strategy for African American economic, social, and political development. Given the emphasis on pooled resources, cooperative economic development is an approach that gets around the constraints of limited wealth among African American individuals and families.

  • What do Cooperatives Have to Do With Rural Development
    Sustainability. Capacity building. Generating wealth. Co-ops and Rural Development share these goals. This webinar by Margaret Bau explains cutting edge applications of the co-op model that we at Rural Development can support.

  • Know your Farmer, Know your Cooperative
    This seminar was hosted by Rural Development’s Jim Barham, and fellow co-op specialists. They speak on the growing intersection between local food systems and cooperatives. Cooperative leaders from across the local food supply chain, including producer and consumer co-ops discuss the advantages of the cooperative business model and how they are engaged in building robust local food systems.