A Legacy of Cooperative Leadership

2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Capper-Volstead Act, which gives farmers and ranchers the legal right to join together in cooperative associations. The founders of the first agricultural cooperatives held strong convictions and above all else, loyalty to the ideals of collective bargaining and market power for small farmers. Whether competing with large, investor-owned firms or serving an unmet need, this collection of farmers and ranchers planted a belief system and philosophy that would endure for decades. They built a culture around these values and grew a socio-economic model that enveloped the surrounding rural communities where the feed mill, cotton gin or grain storage silo set. These cooperatives invested in the future by developing capital locally and generating an economy that is a mainstay in the agricultural industry today. 

Cooperatives are important on the national landscape for multiple reasons. According to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, 1,779 cooperatives in the United States provide300,000 jobs, sales exceeding $200 billion, with $7.8 billion in net income generated in their local economies. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure these businesses are successful. Not surprisingly then, a major part of the cooperative business culture is a recognition of the need for continual education for the board of directors and managers. As leaders of the cooperative system, directors and managers take time outside of the boardroom to participate in various seminars, webinars, conferences, and other educational events each year in order to protect their cooperative. 

For example, the Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council hosts a variety of educational events each year, including:

  • Director Development workshops
  • The Farm Store Summit
  • Board Chair Conference
  • The TACC annual meeting
  • The Academy of Cooperative Excellence
  • South Texas Leadership Conference

If you were to run for a position on the board of directors of your local cooperative, what could you expect in terms of training topics? In our experience, much of director training is geared to simple best business practices and provide information on the challenges facing the modern agricultural industry: carbon sequestration, climate change, agricultural policy, surviving drought, and changes in land use. But some topics are more germane to cooperatives: distribution of cooperative returns, cooperative taxation, maintaining the separate roles of managers and directors, running a board meeting, legal issues, fiduciary duties, and simply, leadership.

The leadership demands on cooperative boards of directors and managers are increasingly becoming a topic of great interest and research. Current leaders are expected to meet new and complex economic and global challenges while continually pressing against the modern challenges of governance, such as inclusion, diversity, and the increasing difficulty of leadership succession. Park, Friend, McKee, and Manley (2019) introduced the concept that leadership competency in agricultural cooperatives is defined by six essential elements of effective leadership: consciousness, conduct, connectedness, interaction, representation, and cooperation.  Cooperative leaders meet many challenges by applying these skills to communicate, inspire others and evoke change in this increasingly complex industry. These are the leaders which will continue to thrive and weather any storm, and it is their agricultural cooperatives that help promote this legacy of leadership education. 

For more information:

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives,  http://ncfc.org

Park, J.L., Friend, D., McKee, G., & Manley, M. (2019). A framework for training and assessment of the 21st century cooperative. Western Economics Forum17(2 ).https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/298048/files/WEF17.2%20-%201.pdf

Diane Friend

Assistant Professor of Instruction 

Department of Agribusiness

Texas A&M University – Kingsville


Friend, Diane. “A Legacy of Cooperative Leadership“. Southern Ag Today 2(45.5). November 4, 2022. Permalink