Today's co-op's share roots with the cooperatives formed by farmers that helped American agriculture develop, and a University of Idaho study seeks to understand the changes and challenges facing co-ops now.
The ag co-op, like the world of agriculture as a whole, has become more complicated and competitive, says Aaron Johnson, a UI ag economist who is overseeing a new project to study the state's co-ops and those in other parts of the Pacific Northwest.
The study is part of a grad student fellowship funded by the CHS Foundation, the major money source of CHS, an energy, grains and foods company with a goal of building vibrant communities.
The $50,000 scholarship supports a master's degree project by applied economics student Hannah Hallock. As separate $30,000 from Darigold will pay project expenses.
Darigold is the marketing and processing subsidiary of the Northwest Dairy Association. Founded in 1918, it is owned by over 550 producers in Idaho ad nearby states, as the nation's 5th largest dairy co-op.
The project will focus research on identifying what cooperatives can do to improve efforts to retain members and recruit new ones.
Johnson, a member of the Idaho co-op council, says the project grew from a conversation among fellow members.
"The question became what are they doing to promote the value they offer members," he says. "
How do they communicate with producers? How does their front office staff communicate that value, and how do the people on the loading dock communicate it?"
UI appreciates those who support the study, says College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean John Foltz, noting that the foundation and Darigold funding is a reflection of the importance of co-ops to ag, education and consumers.
"The (college) has a long relationship with cooperatives and the CHS Foundation in particular that we value highly," he notes "This study will benefit co-ops and will support the educational and professional advancement of a talented student."