Cooperatives are a world-class business development tool for creating robust, sustainable communities. Organized to meet the economic needs of its member-owners, a cooperative is a particularly resilient business form. It embodies the concept of self-help: members use the cooperative, own it, and control it.
Cooperatives are essential to the U.S. economy, especially in rural communities where they often fill market gaps. Agricultural cooperatives provide effective marketing, low-cost supplies and services to their member owners, and cooperatives bring electricity, e-connectivity, affordable housing, capital, financial services, telecommunications, health care, food, hardware, building supplies, and countless other goods and services to rural America.
The function of Cooperative Services is to foster and sustain this uniquely resilient and flexible structure. We strive to help rural residents form new cooperatives and improve the operations of existing ones by:
- Fostering cooperative development through the dissemination of co-op principles and practices
- Acquiring, analyzing, and disseminating cooperative economic, statistical, and historic information
- Describing cooperative legal and economic ecosystems
- Providing educational materials and conducting cooperative research
- Working with federal and stakeholder partners through the Interagency Working Group for Cooperative Development.
Fostering Cooperative Development—Cooperative Services provides support and information for people deciding whether and how to form a co-op. Many of these materials are used by economic development professionals, trade associations, extension agents, youth groups, and agriculture and business schools. USDA’s library of cooperative information and research publications include co-op primers such as:
To seek technical assistance help for forming cooperatives or for new cooperative development issues, please reach out to a Rural Cooperative Development Center, many of which are partially funded through USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant. The Cooperative Development Centers are listed in this Excel workbook: xlsx workbook.
Acquiring and Analyzing Economic, Statistical, and Historic Information —Cooperative Services has been collecting financial, social, and operational data from farmer, rancher, fishery and bargaining cooperatives annually for almost a century. Available cooperative data include:
- Historical Farmer Cooperative Statistical Data (1913-2018). Available upon request by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Directory of Agricultural Cooperatives (Excel workbook directory of cooperatives, updated monthly). Available upon request: email@example.com.
Describing Legal and Economic Cooperative Ecosystems—Cooperative Services tracks, analyzes, and publishes descriptions of Federal and State cooperative laws to facilitate cooperative development and reduce business transaction costs. Co-op Services publications assist cooperative attorneys, accountants, members, trade associations, and development professionals to answer questions about cooperative taxation, governance, finance, and operation. Information provided by Co-op Services helps with tax compliance, incorporation, and operations. Publications include:
- Federal Statutes of Special Importance To Farmer Cooperatives
- Tax Law for Cooperatives
- State Cooperative Statute Research Project (available upon request)
Providing educational materials and conducting research—Cooperative Services offers educational reports and programs that promote the understanding of cooperative principles and practices. Cooperative research addresses a variety of topics to support cooperatives dealing with current and emerging issues. For example, publication topics include:
- Cooperative basics and understanding
- Cooperative director and member responsibilities
- Cooperative theory and practice
- Cooperative membership design (and many other topics)
Publications are delineated as information, research and service and are found here Publications for Cooperatives.
Stakeholder Outreach and Engagement Efforts—The Cooperative Services Branch periodically sends out informational bulletins through GovDelivery focused on USDA cooperative-related materials and products. Those interested in receiving these bulletins should subscribe to USDA RD email updates. Two topic areas relate directly to the Cooperative Services Branch under Cooperative Development are Cooperative Practices and Annual Cooperative Statistics.
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. Cooperatives are eligible for Rural Development funding programs such as the Value-Added Producer Grant Program and the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program.