The Co-operators is a key long-standing example of farmers working for farmers.
Canadian farmers have long understood the importance of banding together. In this current economic climate, the need for farmers to work together is especially important. Farmers have a long history of interacting with co-operative organizations such as The Co-operators. Intrinsically linked to the agricultural sector since its inception, The Co-operators is a key long-standing example of farmers working for farmers.
Formed in 1945 when a group of wheat farmers in Saskatchewan banded together to form an insurance co-operative when they otherwise could not get the coverage they needed, The Co-operators still has 17 agricultural organizations out of 46 member-owners. The Co-operators continues to support agriculture through a variety of donations and grants related to agriculture-related co-operatives, education or research.
The Co-operators maintains strong links to agriculture, not only through programs with member-owners (and their members) but also in its governance structure. Its approach to governance is one of open involvement, where the membership (co-operatives are owned by their members, or “member-owners”) actively shapes its strategic direction. The Co-operators is 100 per cent Canadian owned by 46 member-owners. Apart from the 17 agricultural organizations, the remaining members represent the financial, service, retail/consumer, health and labour sectors.
The member-owners appoint 117 delegates to seven regional committees, who then elect the 22-member board of directors. This structure creates very effective channels of communication between The Co-operators, farmers and other member-owners who are all represented in the regional committees.
Among the member-owners of The Co-operators are advocacy groups for farmers, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Keystone Agriculture Producers, and Wild Rose Agricultural Producers. Producer-supplier members include: Viterra, Agrifoods International Co-operative,
(British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan), Gay Lea Foods, (Ontario), and Lilydale Co-operative Limited (Ontario), among others.
In general, The Co-operators contributes to and supports the co-operative sector, including agriculture, through: the member loyalty program, through which members share in The Co-operators’ success through member loyalty payments when the organization performs well; the development of customized services and products; support for co-operatives, including the Co-operative Development Program, which funds small, emerging co-ops; advocacy for the co-operative sector, including agriculture; and active support/ participation in provincial, national and international co-operative associations. Customized products and services are developed to add additional value to the members of our member-owners’ (MOMO) offerings. The Member Benefits Program is a special insurance program that includes enhanced farm coverage endorsement, travel benefits and group benefits – added value for members of MOMOs.
Because co-operatives are based on the principle of mutual benefit, The Co-operators’ profits from its member-owners’ business. However, it also gives back to them during profitable years. The Co-operators Foundation provides grants to agriculture through the Corporate Giving Program. From 1986 to 2010, a total of $346,667 has been invested in the University of Manitoba’s Agricultural Chair in Co-operatives, University of Alberta’s Co-operative Chair in Agricultural Marketing and Business, and the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Agricultural Medicine and Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture.
The Co-operators Foundation also grants in support of agriculture through the Co-operative Development Program. Grants have been directed to The Bay Growers’ Co-operative (Ont.) and Quinte Organic Farmers Co-operative (Picton, Ont.) whi le agr icul ture-related investments, through the Co-operative Development Program, have been made to the Oxford Farmers’ Co-operative (Murikirk, Ont.), Farm Fresh Poultry Co-operative (Harriston, Ont.), and the Mornington Heritage Cheese and Dairy Co-operative (Gods Hill Station, Ont.).
Garnet Etsell is second vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.