2013 Future Cooperative Leaders Conference


2012 to 2013


The Cooperative Enterprise Program collaborated with the Northeast Cooperative Council (NECC) to deliver the Future Cooperative Leaders Conference targeted towards farm operators and employees who have demonstrated potential in leading cooperative businesses in the future. Forty-one persons from 12 cooperatives (doing business in NY, PA, New England), and 4 states attended the conference. Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and NY Farm Net staff attended as well. Commodities represented included dairy, field crops, grapes, and nursery crops. Responsibilities of cooperative employees attending included marketing, communication, grain handling, and finance. Presentations focused on product branding, leadership pathways, estate planning for farm businesses, financial management, and legislation impacting cooperative businesses. NECC members shared information about their cooperatives through roundtable discussions. Attendees toured the O-AT-KA Milk Products Inc. processing facility, the most complex dairy processing plant in North America. In reflecting on the conference, participants concluded cooperative businesses are more complex than they imagined; value and responsibility of product brands should be infused into the product from production to consumption; and increased understanding of challenges and opportunities of other commodities. Seventy-six percent of the attendees indicated that they learned above average of what they expected to learn at the conference with 25 percent indicating that they learned a significant amount. Thirty-three percent of attendees expected to return home and take a more active role in leading their cooperatives. The Northeast Cooperative Council noted that attendance was significantly higher than past conferences and were pleased with the information that was presented and the results of the evaluations.


Members of the Northeast Cooperative Council and research findings released through 'Choices,' the publication of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association indicates that current cooperative boards of directors and senior level management is very concerned about who will assume leadership roles of cooperative businesses in the future. Cooperatives are complex business structures. According to the USDA agricultural cooperatives in NYS had $2.83 billion in sales with 80% of milk produced in the state marketed through a cooperative. Cooperatives need to be properly governed and well managed to provide desired services, aggregate, process, market and distribute products produced by their farmer, member-owners. Surplus net returns from cooperative businesses can be returned to member-owners proportionate to use, increasing net income at the farm level. Employees desire to work in a business that is stable and rewards their efforts. Consumers are expressing an interest and preference in purchasing products from farmer-owned businesses.


The Cooperative Enterprise Program collaborated with the Northeast Cooperative Council to hold the Future Cooperative Leaders Conference. The target audience was persons (farm operators and employees) identified by cooperatives as showing interest and potential to assume leadership roles in cooperatives. Cooperatives sponsored their members and employees to attend. Cooperative Extension educators and NY Farm Net staff attended as they interact with farmers who are currently cooperative members or farmers who desire to form a cooperative to solve an economic problem. A planning committee was identified to identify topics and speakers.


The conference strengthened the desire of participants to take a more active role in their respective cooperative. Two-thirds of participants benefited from the information on how to evaluate the financial performance of a cooperative business. This information will allow them to ask targeted questions to cooperative directors and managers. One-third of attendees, who had never attended a cooperative annual meeting in the past, learned about the importance of the annual meeting and expected to attend one in the future. Another third indicated that they would seek out their board representative to learn about the cooperative. Half indicated a desire to serve as delegates to the annual meeting or serve on various committees of the cooperative. A third saw the need to become more engaged in legislative matters impacting the cooperative and their respective commodities. Several voiced appreciation for the opportunity to learn about other commodities of which they were not familiar. One participant said, “As young members, we have a lot at stake in the directions our cooperatives take now, since we will be the ones reaping the rewards or the repercussions in the future. As co-op businesses make investments in equipment and employees, investments need to be made in younger members so they are prepared to lead co-ops in the future.”

Submitted by: 

  • Severson, Roberta M

Researchers involved: 

  • Severson, Roberta
  • Schmit, Todd M

Organizations involved: 

  • Northeast Cooperative Council

International focus: 

  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont