The Ohio Cooperative Development Center and OSU Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Developmental Economics prepare the next generation of cooperative leaders

By Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center Program Specialist

Agricultural cooperatives have demonstrated steady growth and stable financial performance in recent years. They make strong contributions to the U.S. economy and create new employment opportunities for college graduates with degrees in agriculture. In 2015 there were 2,047 agricultural cooperatives in the United States, with a net income of $7 billion dollars and 136,300 full-time employees (USDA, SR79 Agricultural Cooperative Statistics). 

The Ohio State University has a long history of supporting cooperative education, including a long-offered undergraduate agricultural economics course that focuses specifically on the cooperative model. The Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC) collaborates with Dr. Tom Worley and Dr. David Hahn of The Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Developmental Economics (AEDE) to facilitate components of the course. AEDE 3141 develops students’ understanding of the cooperative business model and cooperative principles as they relate to the organization and management of agribusinesses. 

OCDC works with teams of students to develop cooperative leadership multi-media projects. First, students choose a cooperative topic of interest on which to focus their project. Students may choose topics like the unique aspects of managing a co-op compared to investor-owned firms; the concept of the patronage refund and its role in the cooperative business model; or the roles and responsibilities of co-op members in the success of their business. Next, OCDC and course instructors are available to connect students with current cooperative managers, directors, or officers who share operational knowledge and real-world experience of the topic. Students interview the cooperative leader and compile interviews and background materials to create a 3-5 minute multimedia presentation. 

Students complete AEDE 3141 with a comprehensive understanding of agricultural cooperatives from coursework, lectures, and face-to-face discussions with cooperative leaders. The multimedia project helps students build skills in digital production and fosters meaningful connections with industry leaders.

“Access to engaging cooperative education materials for developers of new cooperatives, stakeholders of existing cooperatives, and students of cooperatives is one of the major challenges OCDC faces when providing education and technical assistance to the public and start-up cooperatives,” said Program Manager Hannah Scott. The benefit of the student multi-media projects reaches far beyond their personal learning, providing public education in an accessible and engaging format.

 The Center showcases students’ multimedia projects on the Ohio Cooperative Development Center’s website and utilizes students’ videos in OCDC’s cooperative education and outreach efforts. Past student projects can be viewed at southcenters.osu.edu/cooperatives/cooperative-resources. 

The center also plans to feature student projects in OCDC’s upcoming online training, Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101. The training will be housed in the public access version of Canvas, The Ohio State University’s online learning management system. The course will be available to the public in 2018.

Reference: Agricultural Cooperative Statistics SR79, 2015, USDA Rural Development. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from https://www.rd.usda.gov/files/publications/SR79AgriculturalCooperativeSt...