Co-ops Help Farmer-Owners and Communities Succeed

October 3, 2023
Andrew Schafer, a Washington farmer and member of the CHS SunBasin Growers producer board, explains how being a cooperative leader adds value for his career, his operation and his community.

October is National Co-op Month – a time dedicated to recognizing the value that cooperatives bring to farmers, ranchers and their rural communities. Andrew Schafer, a Washington farmer and member of the CHS SunBasin Growers producer board, describes how being involved with his cooperative has helped his operation.

Benefits of cooperative ownership

Schafer says he agreed to helping lead his local cooperative board to have a voice in decisions that affect his farm and community. He found that working with his co-op offers many other opportunities, much more, including the chance to advocate for agriculture.

“I’ve really enjoyed the leadership role that I’ve held at my local co-op board. I’ve had some amazing experiences that have opened my mind to ways to run not just my operation, but my life and my family,” Schafer says. “Beyond that, it’s given me the opportunity to amplify my voice and get out the message that agriculture is an important industry.”

Part of what makes a cooperative unique is the ability for every member’s voice to be heard.

“Being a cooperative member within CHS, we all have an equal vote,” Schafer explains. “Having a voice that is equal to everybody really is empowering. You feel that you can have a say in your local cooperative and how the business is run.”

Community support

Co-ops are ingrained in the communities they serve, supporting the local culture and economy in tangible ways. In Schafer’s community, one example of this is the co-op’s support of the local fair.

“The cooperative is a big sponsor [of the fair] – not only in purchasing animals for kids. They’re also entertainment sponsors and sponsor breakfasts,” he says. “It’s very visible in the community how much of an impact that they have and how beneficial it truly is in our small area.”

Farmer-owned cooperatives also bring financial support to rural communities. In the cooperative model, profits are shared as patronage and equity with member-owners. So, when farmers do business with a cooperative, they not only support local jobs, but also gain revenue that can be reinvested in their communities.

 “Knowing there is a business on a global scale like CHS that is sharing their profits with their owners is truly amazing to me,” says Schafer

Sustaining agriculture into the future

What can farmers do to ensure their cooperatives continue to provide support? Schafer urges co-op owners to get involved.

“It’s so easy to surround yourself with your own problems and all the things you have to do. But there won’t be an opportunity to do that in the future if we don’t get involved, have a voice and protect our interests as a farming community,” he says. “I think it’s a pretty simple message: If you don’t get involved, who will?”

Andrew Schafer wearing a plaid shirt and AirPods on a video call