U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Cooperative Services

Cooperatives create robust, sustainable communities by meeting the economic needs of their member-owners and keeping profits local. They fill market gaps in the economy and are a particularly resilient and flexible type of business. Cooperative members own, use, and control their business democratically and can respond flexibly to the ups and downs of the business cycle. 

Statistics prove the resiliency of agricultural cooperatives: more than 23 percent of U.S. farmer cooperatives have been operating for 100 years or more and 77 percent are more than 50 years old. USDA Cooperative Services provides this statistical research and more. It supports cooperatives through technical assistance, information on available USDA funding, and publications on how to start and maintain cooperative businesses. Co-op Services also researches the legal, social, and economic aspects of cooperatives. 

Co-op Services partners with other Federal agencies and cooperative stakeholders through the Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development. This initiative was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which mandates that the Agriculture Secretary “chair an interagency working group to foster cooperative development and ensure coordination with federal agencies and … cooperative organizations.” If you are looking for Partners, Funding Resources, Development Tools, and/or Publications & Information, please visit the website.

Cooperatives’ Critical Role—In rural America, agricultural cooperatives provide marketing, processing, and low-cost supplies and services to their member owners. Co-ops bring electricity to more than half of the Nation’s landmass and supply e-connectivity and telecommunications to rural residents. Cooperatives meet the needs of their member-owners in all areas of the economy, not just in the agricultural and utility space. Cooperatives provide affordable solutions to market gaps in housing, grocery, childcare, home care (including care for veterans and individuals who are elderly or disabled), banking, mutual insurance, and other financial service industries. When business owners retire or when a business faces closure, the employees can buy the business and keep their jobs.

Why are cooperatives so effective for community economic development?

  • Cooperatives keep funds local. Member-owners receive the business’ profits based on how much they use (“patronize”) the cooperative. These “patronage refunds” circulate in the community and support the tax base.
  • Cooperatives meet community needs when investors decline to provide capital in the belief that they will not make sufficient profit (e.g., rural electric cooperatives, rural grocery cooperatives).
  • Cooperatives even the playing field for large and small businesses. Members can create economies of scale by collectively purchasing goods and services, processing their inputs, and marketing their business. Cooperatives collectively purchase building supplies, hardware, health care, human resource services, and insurance, for example.
  • Cooperatives are a wealth-building tool. Entry into a cooperative business requires a relatively small investment that builds over time. For example, at a time when many people cannot afford to get into the housing market or to work where they live, cooperative housing allows people to live in the community where they work and to accumulate equity rather than paying rent.
  • Cooperatives save jobs. When businesses close because of owner retirement or a shutdown, the employees can buy the business together and operate as a worker cooperative.
  • Cooperatives teach people skills. Members learn to operate the business and govern it democratically.

Library of Cooperative Information—Cooperative Services provides information and research publications for economic development professionals, trade associations, extension agents, youth groups, and agriculture and business schools. This library of cooperative information and research publications includes co-op primers such as: 

To seek technical assistance help with 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. An Excel workbook listing Cooperative Development Centers is available upon request at coopinfo@usda.gov .

Acquiring and Analyzing Economic, Statistical, and Historic Information —Cooperative Services has been collecting financial, social, and operational data from farmer, rancher, aquaculture and bargaining cooperatives annually for almost a century. Available cooperative data include: 

  • Historical Agricultural Cooperative Statistical Data (1913-present)
  • Directory of Agricultural Cooperatives (Excel workbook directory of cooperatives, updated monthly)
  • Statistical summary bulletins and analysis

All these products are available upon request at coopinfo@usda.gov .

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 relating 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 could be eligible for Rural Development funding programs such as the  Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Guaranteed Loans & Grants, Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) ProgramSocially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG), and the Business and Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantee program. There are many other programs where Cooperatives could be the receiver of assistance through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG), Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant (REDLG) Program, Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG), and the Intermediary Relending Program. These programs are only a sample of programs that could be available. Reach out to our team at CoopConnect@usda.gov with your project idea to find out more.

Cooperatives are classed by how they are owned and the function they serve:

  • Producer cooperatives are owned by producer-members whose product is processed and/or marketed by the co-op (e.g., artist, farmer, platform cooperatives).
  • Consumer cooperatives are owned by consumer-members who use the co-op's products or services (e.g., retail stores, housing cooperatives, mutual insurance companies, credit unions, community investment co-ops).
  • Purchasing or shared services cooperatives are owned by organizations that combine their purchasing power in a cooperative to get better prices for products and services (e.g., schools, hardware stores, pharmacies).
  • Worker cooperatives are owned and operated by the worker-members (e.g., restaurants, engineering firms, taxi, homecare agencies).
  • Hybrid or multi-stakeholder cooperative are made up of some combination of worker-, producer-, and/or consumer-owners (e.g., food hubs, childcare, etc.).

Describing Legal and Economic Cooperative Environments—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: 

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 available and are found here: Publications for Cooperatives.