A snapshot of the top 100 agricultural cooperatives
Despite a drop in total gross business revenue from $149.1 billion in 2018 to $147.8 billion in 2019, the nation’s 100 largest agricultural cooperatives reported a record $5.9 billion net income, up $800 million, or 15.6 percent, from the previous record $5.1 billion in 2018. The Top 100 ag co-ops also employed a record $67.6 billion in assets in 2019.
The record net income reflects the success of Top 100 co-ops holding in check expenses while also increasing service and other operating income. Both patronage income received from other cooperatives and non-operating revenues also increased, contributing to the rise in net income.
Total gross sales (sales from marketing commodities, products and selling supplies) was $143.6 billion, $2.4 billion less than in 2018.
A significant rise in service and other operating income of $2.9 billion occurred in 2019 (an increase of $811 million, or 38.5 percent, from 2018). Wages, depreciation, and interest expense all increased in 2019, but other expenses fell. Together these changes provided a very slight increase in total expenses.
The Top 100 ag co-ops had 72.8 percent of the total gross business revenues of all ag co-ops in 2019, down slightly from 73.2 percent in 2018. Total business revenues are comprised of gross sales, service and other operating income, patronage from other cooperatives, and non-operating income. Net income after taxes of the Top 100 was 76.7 percent of all ag co-ops.
The $67.5 billion in total assets of the Top 100 ag co-ops in 2019 was an increase of 3.4 percent from 2018. Member equity also increased, totaling $28.9 billion, of which 63 percent ($18.3 billion) was allocated equity. Total liabilities of the Top 100 ag co-ops increased by 3.9 percent to $38.7 billion in 2019 (long-term liabilities increased by $1.1 billion, or by 9.1 percent).
Profile of the Top 100
The nation’s 100 largest ag co-ops served 634,552 members and employed 101,386 people in full- and part-time positions. Compared to the entire population of the nation’s ag co-ops, the largest 100 served 33.4 percent of all ag co-op members and employed 55.2 percent of the people. These co-ops also operated 3,837 locations (41 percent of all co-op locations) in communities across the United States.
Twenty-seven Top 100 ag co-ops have been operating for more than 100 years, 37 for 75 to 99 years, 15 for 50 to 74 years, and 21 for less than 50 years. The average size of the board of directors of Top 100 ag co-ops is 10, 2 more than the average size of the board of all ag co-ops (8).
Most of the Top 100 ag co-ops (43 of them) have diverse operations, noted as mixed type ag co-ops with varying combinations of commodities marketed and supplies sold. There were 18 co-ops in the Top 100 that marketed milk and milk products (dairy), 8 that marketed fruits and/or vegetables, 7 each that marketed sugar and marketed grains and oilseeds. There were 4 co-ops in the list that marketed livestock, and 6 co-ops in the other category (commodities including rice, cotton, biofuel, and nuts).
Iowa, California, and Minnesota had most Top 100 ag co-op sales
Seventy-two of the 100 largest ag co-ops operate in more than one state. Iowa has 33 Top 100 ag co-ops operating within its borders that conducted $12.7 billion of net sales: the combination of $7.7 billion in net sales of commodities marketed and $5 billion in net supply sales. California had $10.7 billion in net sales conducted by 20 Top 100 ag co-ops, and 28 Top 100 co-ops had $9.1 billion in net sales in Minnesota. Wisconsin was ranked fourth with$ 6.3 billion in total sales.
When breaking out commodities marketed, California had the most marketing net sales of the Top 100 ag co-ops at $10.2 billion and Iowa followed with $7.7 billion. For supplies, the Top 100 ag co-ops had the most net sales in Iowa at $5 billion, followed by Illinois with $3 billion.
Net sales of the 100 largest ag co-ops totaled $121 billion, $91 billion from marketing commodities and $30 billion from selling supplies. These co-ops also conducted $22.6 billion in business between themselves, and when added to net sales, resulted in the total $143.6 billion in gross sales of the Top 100.
CHS, Inc. tops the Top 100 ag co-op listing
CHS Inc., Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota (an energy, farm supply, grain and food co-op) is the nation’s largest agricultural co-op (in fact, the largest U.S. co-op of any kind) and has held that position for many years. In 2019, CHS had total gross business revenue of $32.2 billion and total assets of $16.4 billion. Dairy Farmers of America, a dairy co-op headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is in the 2nd position in the listing with total revenue of $16.3 billion and assets of $5.6 billion. Land O’Lakes of Saint Paul, Minnesota, a diverse supply and dairy co-op is ranked third with $13.9 billion in total gross revenues and $8.9 billion in assets.
Tracking the Top 100
Tracking the Top 100 co-ops’ performance, year-to-year, provides insight into trends and economic forces impacting ag co-ops and their member owners. The various financial ratios discussed may also serve as a yardstick that all co-ops can compare their own status to. In 2019, the Top 100 co-ops employed record assets and had record net income. Even though they experienced slightly lower business revenue, these top co-ops showed significant financial and operational strength.
Strong performance allows co-ops to: invest in additional or renewed operational assets; use funds to shore up their financial foundation; and to pay out patronage refunds and revolve member equity to members. The operations of the nation’s 100 largest agricultural cooperatives represent a wide diversity of agricultural businesses. As such, it is difficult to point to two or three reasons for the changes that occurred on the list in the past year. There are many reasons that a co-op’s rank, total business volume, revenue, expenses and income change on a year-to-year basis; these factors will vary depending upon the sector the cooperative operates within.
Total business revenue changes can be influenced by: cooperative-sector structural changes, e.g., mergers, acquisitions and dissolutions; prices and physical volume of commodities marketed and farm inputs sold; energy-sector performance; state and national trade and farm programs; food-price fluctuations; economic peaks and valleys; weather conditions; etc. It is important to keep such factors in mind when assessing the rank and performance of the Top 100 U.S. agricultural co-ops.
Finally, while this analysis focused on the largest 100 ag co-ops in the nation, it should not, by any means, diminish the importance of small- to mid-sized ag co-ops and their vast contributions. Co-ops of all sizes and types play a critical role in the food and fiber economy of the United States, as well as positively impact rural communities. All co-ops operate to effectively serve members, striving to provide them with excellent services and greater economic benefits than they would otherwise experience without direct participation in cooperatives.