How co-op ownership benefits a Minnesota farmer

October 13, 2022
Minnesota farmer, Ryan Mackenthun, shares how cooperative ownership adds value to his business and community.

Cooperative ownership isn’t a new concept. Farmers and ranchers banded together in the early 1900s to form the first ag cooperatives to optimize efficiencies and gain access to the resources needed to grow their businesses. Today’s cooperatives may look different than those first organizations, but the benefits are much the same for modern farmers.

Advantages of cooperative ownership

Ryan Mackenthun farms nearly 5,000 acres with his brother-in-law and neighbors in Brownton, Minn., and depends on his local cooperative to keep his business running smoothly.

“My local cooperative is an essential component of my operation. We rely on it for many services, including variable rate planting and fertilizer maps; products like seed, crop protection inputs, fertilizer and energy; and grain marketing opportunities,” explains Mackenthun.

Today, Mackenthun says he appreciates the unique ways cooperative ownership benefits farmers, but he wasn’t always aware of all the ways the cooperative system is different than other business models..

“When farming in my 20s, I focused on price shopping. My goal was to get the best price for every input. Eventually, I started to realize the benefits of farmer ownership after receiving my first [delivery of patronage] from CHS. When I consider the patronage that returns to farmers, cooperatives make more sense than other suppliers,” says Mackenthun.

Fostering local connections

Local cooperatives are embedded in the communities they serve, providing tangible value for farmers.

“My co-op is four miles from my farm, which adds many efficiencies, convenience and flexibility to my operation. When I need a product quickly or my plan changes, I can generally get what I need within 15 minutes. In farming, that flexibility is a necessity,” Mackenthun says.

Cooperative ownership also fosters strong relationships critical for a farm’s success. For example, Mackenthun says his local agronomist, is a fundamental team member and brings a unique perspective to guide decision-making.

“Mark knows everything about me, my farm and how my operation runs. That close relationship helps him anticipate my needs so my inputs are available when I need them,” he explains.

Farmer-owned cooperatives bring jobs, critical infrastructure and financial support to rural communities. When farmers do business with a cooperative, they strengthen their local neighborhoods.

Mackenthun says, “In the cooperative model, farmers help decide how to reinvest profits or pay patronage to their customers. That means money stays local to build strong rural economies, which is a huge advantage for everyone.”

This interview is the second in a four-part series highlighting the benefits of cooperative ownership. These four episodes are being featured during National Co-op Month, which occurs every October.