Visualizing cooperation


Urban residents a generation or more removed from the farm should give our latest video a good look. It shows the harvest underway in west-central Minnesota and how the community benefits from locally owned cooperative businesses in Renville.  It’s a model that can be just as beneficial for the metro’s economic development.

Let’s use a specialty crop, like sugarbeets, as an example.  It takes unique and expensive equipment to harvest the beets, which would have no use or value in producing other crops.  That means a well-organized harvest among individual growers and a coordinated sugar processing season (“campaign”) are in every sugarbeet farmer’s best interest.

Meanwhile, the huge sugarbeet processing plant at Renville would be too costly for any individual farmer or even a small group of farmers to build and operate on their own. The only alternative would be an enormous, vertically integrated farming operation that would not be consistent with Minnesota’s family farm business model.

Farms are individually and family-owned enterprises in Minnesota. Through cooperation, these farms can engage in value-added business activities that increases rural wealth, provides jobs, and retains a higher portion of the consumer food dollar at home.

Specialty nut, fruit and vegetable crop producers in other parts of the United States operate in much the same way as Minnesota and North Dakota sugarbeet farmers. The uniqueness of the costly sugarbeet equipment, however, makes our sugar industry more like a special potato starch cooperative in northern Holland and adjacent areas of Germany. These farmers grow potatoes, but not the kind you buy in stores.

The world’s pharmaceutical companies buy the starch this crop produces because it’s a highly-digestible material used in making medicine capsules.  Land costs in the Netherlands would make growing potatoes for the retail market nearly impossible.  The innovation and business savvy of the Dutch starch cooperative, however, make the Dutch and German potato farmers among the most successful in the world by producing extreme value-added products.

Look at the sugarbeet harvest video; the business structure is sound and can work across numerous industry lines, both in the country and in Uptown.