By Hannah Ruth Tabler, NFU Intern
For beginning farmers, getting a foothold in the agriculture industry can be difficult. One of the foremost challenges facing beginning farmers today is a lack of access to appropriate markets. Many farmers, young and old, have turned to the cooperative business model to increase their profit and reap the benefits of employee-owned businesses.
One resource beginning farmers can use to break into cooperatives is the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC). The center operates out of UW’s extension service. Their mission is to “increase understanding and encourage critical thinking about cooperatives by fostering scholarship and mutual learning among academics, the cooperative community, policy makers and the public.” They accomplish this by providing vital resources to those at all levels of cooperatives, including beginners. From their extensive library of cooperative information to their easily accessible toolkits and briefings on their website, the UWCC is a valuable service for beginning farmers looking to improve their cooperative knowledge.
Take, for example, the studies and toolboxes provided on UWCC’s website. Farmers of all kinds can benefit from the Toolbox for Diversified Farmers and Farmworkers, which explains how to effectively strengthen workforces through collective ventures. The toolbox encourages farmers and farmworkers to collaborate and find a business model that works best for all involved. It explains the difference in legal structures between cooperatives and the LLCs. Financial viability is also considered by calculating the costs of four farm scenarios. A usable financial spreadsheet is available on request by contacting [email protected] or [email protected].
Similarly, the Cooperative Finance Tool is an online learning and training tool designed to teach the basics of worker cooperative finances. By explaining how a fictional coffee shop could utilize a cooperative to financial gain, it shows the model at work in a real-world setting. The reader can decide what financial decisions to make in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style that shows the pros and cons of said decisions.
UWCC also hosts several workshops and conferences, including an annual Farmer Cooperative Conference, which “provides a stimulating forum for cooperative directors, managers, and those doing business with agribusiness cooperatives to exchange ideas with policy, research and legal experts on issues currently affecting the agricultural cooperative community.”
For Wisconsinites and beyond, the UWCC is a trove of resources and contacts to make cooperative membership less daunting. Any farmer of any skill level will benefit from visiting their website at http://www.uwcc.wisc.edu/.
What tools have you found helpful in reaching new markets? What tools would you like us to know more about? Let us know below!