North Dakota Farmers Union has been a strong advocate for cooperatives throughout the life of our organization. From the very beginning of the cooperative movement in our state, we have played a major role in establishing and developing cooperative businesses.  

The growth of Farmers Union cooperatives and the Farmers Union organization has occurred through common efforts that have proven to be mutually beneficial. We should take concerted action to prevent disassociation between Farmers Union and cooperatives, and instead work to maintain our common identity. Members should elect delegates and directors who pledge to maintain the relationship between these two farmer institutions. 

In these times, when we face extreme market exploitation by monopolistic practices in industries surrounding agriculture production and processing, the promotion and development of farm cooperatives is an effective tool for increasing farmers’ bargaining power.

Many cooperatives today have concerns about member-owner loyalty. Interestingly in North Dakota, cooperatives continue to be successful and members generally have a better understanding of the cooperative business model. We believe this is due, in part, to the work of our organization in carrying out one of the primary principles of a cooperative – to provide cooperative education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees, along with ongoing information to the public about the benefits of cooperation.

NDFU provides a long list of programs that focus on cooperative success, starting with our early youth education and camping program. More than 2,000 youths attend classes and camps annually, where we form cooperatives – electing directors, hiring managers and distributing earnings – to teach the fundamentals of the cooperative business model. 

In our adult education programs, we partner with cooperatives to provide strategic planning; director, manager and employee training; patron focus group meetings; audit presentations; educational bus trips to state and regional cooperative facilities; and consumer education.

NDFU has also played a leadership role in the development of the Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives through funding and participation on the advisory board. We have participated in the development of co-op classes and curriculum development for public schools, including research studies on cooperative opportunities and challenges. 

Patronizing and supporting cooperative enterprises that retain equity, control, benefits and ownership for agricultural producers within rural communities is a proven self-help, home-grown rural development mechanism that builds needed economic infrastructure.

While education is one of the key principles, we cannot ignore the others. Fundamentally, a cooperative is a jointly owned enterprise engaging in the production or distribution and marketing of goods or supply of services, operated by its members for their mutual benefit. When we forget our purpose, we lose the support of patrons. Cooperatives were never designed to be like other businesses. They are a self-help tool. We cannot lose sight of the original objective.

I challenge our members who are patrons of cooperatives to take time to participate in your cooperative. I challenge our cooperatives to remember their roots and purpose. This, along with continued education, is what will drive continued cooperative success in North Dakota.

— NDFU President Mark Wayne