For more than 100 years, farmer cooperatives have contributed to a strong, competitive and productive agricultural sector and played an important role in producing a safe and secure food supply for the world. To honor the many accomplishments of cooperatives, the United Nations declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, a move which was affirmed by the United States Senate. As part of this effort to recognize co-ops, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives has launched its own year-long celebration called Year of the Farmer Co-op.
The Year of the Farmer Co-op gives us the chance to tell the story of America’s farmer-owned businesses, and we have a fantastic story to tell. A story of how co-ops have created real value for millions of farmers and ranchers across the U.S.; a story of how farmer co-ops are an engine of job creation and economic growth throughout rural America; and a story of how farmer co-ops connect consumers directly with the farmers who provide them with a safe, affordable and abundant food, fiber, and fuel supply. Throughout this year, NCFC has been sharing these stories and others to policy makers, opinion leaders, media and the public all across the country.
While we celebrate farmer co-op achievements, we also look towards the future and the important role co-ops will play in helping farmers produce enough food to nourish a rapidly growing world population. By the year 2050, the world is expected to hold more than 9 billion people. By some estimates, we will need to increase our global productivity by at least two-thirds.
America’s farmer co-ops will play a key role in meeting this challenge in a way that provides the greatest benefit to producers across the country. And many co-ops have taken these efforts beyond our borders, playing an active role in helping farmers in developing countries adopt production practices to maximize their yields and help feed their populations.
An especially important aspect of this effort is how farmer co-ops help to spur innovation and connect producers, both here at home and across the globe, with new technology. Co-ops have partnered with other agribusinesses to develop and deliver this technology and we have made amazing progress over the past few decades. In fact, the USDA’s latest projected average yield for corn this year—a year that saw much of the Corn Belt hit with the worst drought in half a century—would have been a record-setting yield just twenty years ago in 1992.
This success would not have been possible without sound public policy to encourage development and deployment of technology, and one of our top priorities not only as co-ops but as a wider agricultural community must be to continue these policies that have been proven effective and efficient.
I hope that you take an opportunity over the next couple months to contribute to our celebration of this Year of the Farmer Co-op.
Chuck Conner was named President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in January 2009. Prior to joining NCFC, Conner served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a position that he had held since 2005. From August 2007 to January 2008, Conner served as both USDA Acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary.