This report identiﬁes challenges and opportunities facing farmer cooperatives in theyears ahead and offers strategies to increase their chances for success. The externalforces besetting cooperatives are examined as are their internal strengths and weak-nesses. Priority issues are identiﬁed that cooperative members, leaders and advisersneed to address. No easy solutions are provided, because there are none. Hopefully,this report will serve as a catalyst for further thought and discussion on how farmercooperatives can enhance income and quality of life for their members.
In 1987, a USDA report, "Positioning Farmer Cooperatives for the Future," was pre-pared in response to a directive from the Senate Agricultural AppropriationsSubcommittee. It reﬂected the views of cooperative leaders from across the countrywho gathered in a series of focus panels to discuss the future of farmer-owned cooper-atives. While many different issues and strategies were discussed, panelists conclud-ed that cooperatives must continually adapt to the changing marketplace and needs offarmers and that nothing inherent in the cooperative form of business prevents thattype of evolution. The report affirmed the need and and capability of cooperatives tochange for the future.
This report examines the challenges producer-owned cooperatives face at the dawn ofthe 21st century. Several participants in the 1987 study revisited that report and com-mented on a range of topics regarding the continued relevance of its ﬁndings and newissues that have arisen since then. Then, prominent members of the cooperative com-munity across the country participated in six focus panels (Appendix B). A discussionoutline covering a range of conditions confronting agriculture in general and cooperativesin particular was sent to each participant before each focus group met (Appendix C).The focus group panelists engaged in brainstorming sessions and free-form discus-sion, framed by the set of "contemporary" cooperative principles formulated in the1987 study.
Commentary from each panel is reﬂected in this report. However, no com-ment is directly attributable to any panel member.
This report identiﬁes challenges facing agricultural producers and their cooperatives asthey enter the 21st century and suggests a foundation for developing options andstrategies to meet those challenges.
The three principles: member-owned, member-controlled, and member-benefits succinctly define theunique aspects of the cooperative form of business and provide a framework for evaluating cooperativeactions and practices.
This report refers to various structures used by members to form cooperatives. Scholars have classifiedthese structures and given them somewhat arbitrary labels. A summary of the meaning of various teamsused to describe cooperative strutures in this report is attached as Appendix A.