By Phil Kenkel, Vice Chair, Cooperatives CoP and Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair, Oklahoma State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a recent national project, academic researchers, cooperative managers and members, USDA, agricultural foundations and other stakeholders collaborated to identify the critical issues facing agricultural cooperatives. A two-stage Delphi survey was conducted, followed by expert panel sessions in Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The material below summarizes some of the findings from the project.
Cooperatives are owned and controlled by a diverse set of users. They also operate under a unique business model. In light of these facts, it is not surprising that communications was a pressing issue for agricultural cooperatives. The communications issues identified by the cooperative experts fell into three major categories:
Users of a cooperative are both customers and owners. Ideally, a cooperative’s communications should cover both relationships. Most cooperatives try to communicate the important fact that they are a great firm to do business with. They are somewhat less diligent in communicating the unique value of their business structure.
Cooperatives are successfully operating in almost every sector of American industry. However, the cooperative industry has never developed a simply unified message that communicates the value package and cuts across all types of cooperatives. The local food movement has successfully used the message “Know your Farmer, Know your Food.” Agricultural cooperatives might be able to reduce their communications challenges if they had a simple unified message and if RECs, Farm Credit Banks, credit unions, telephone cooperatives and cooperative food stores were echoing the same message.