Agriculture and ResourcesAnalysis of co-operatives in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining sectors and their impacts.
Agriculture and Resources Research Projects
General Information about Agriculture Co-operatives
Agriculture co-ops provide goods or services directly to farmers. Today, Ag Co-ops may be involved in one or more of the following:
The agricultural sector in Canada has some of the oldest and largest co-operatives in the country. In 2010, there were over 411 agriculture and resource co-operatives operating in a variety of sectors and employing over 23,000 Canadians:
Historically, agricultural co-ops were often established because the co-op could purchase expensive equipment, such as a harvester, that individual farms could not afford. The co-operative advantage in the agricultural sector is that it combines economies of scale with democratic decision-making. The diverse member base of agricultural co-ops gives a voice to farmers, who have perspective as to what is happening at ground-level.
Canadian Agricultural Co-operatives: Trends and Challenges (Theriault, Bent)
Although the agricultural co-operative sector has a long and extensive history in Canada, very few data analyses have been done on this sector. In this project, the researchers used data from the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) to identify key trends in the sector from 1992-2008.
Trends that were looked at include:
- Total number of agricultural co-operatives;
- Volume of business of agricultural co-operatives;
- Size of the co-operatives’ membership; and
- Number of Canadians employed by the sector.
Highlights of Findings
Overall, the data demonstrates that the co-op model in agriculture is performing well despite the trend towards farm consolidation.
The West, surprisingly given its agrarian history, shows a great deal of vulnerability, but this is largely due to a collapse of grain marketing co-operatives in 2004-2005.
Membership has declined dramatically in the West, while holding relatively steady in other regions:
Despite these challenges, business volume increased in Quebec, Ontario and the Atlantic region.
Ontario co-ops, more or less, show continuous growth in all quarters. Members, numbers, and business are grow steadily throughout this time, although some prominent co-operatives have been privatized or bought out in this time. The only exception is Farm Supply co-ops which show a steady decline, perhaps reflecting a decline in overall farm numbers, while those remaining are more productive.
The Atlantic region shows the same trend of modest growth.
Quebec shows the most striking growth of all the regions. Numbers grow almost consistently in all quarters. Business has been aided by the following factors:
- Quebec co-operatives buying up co-operatives from outside the province, particularly in Ontario.
- Provincial governments, of all stripes, have aided co-operatives with friendly legislation and even grants, as they view co-operatives as a means of promoting provincial economic self-sufficiency.
The continuing decline in overall farm numbers and consolidation of those that remain are perhaps the biggest challenges facing agricultural co-ops in the years ahead.
Where agricultural co-ops provide a valued service, and where the political climate is supportive, they show signs of growth and success.
Improving economic performance and public and government relations should be a priority for the sector in the years to come.
Determined to Prosper: The Story of the Sussex Co-op (Bent, Theriault)
Determined to Prosper” is the story of the world’s oldest agricultural co-op, Sussex & Studholm Agricultural Society #21, written by David Bent and based on original history of the co-op written thirty years earlier by the late James M. Thompson. The production of this book was an Measuring the Co-operative Difference project supervised by Dr. Luc Thériault of UNB in partnership with Wendy Keats of the Co-operative Enterprise Council of New Brunswick. Further support was received from Atlantic Co-operative Publishers Limited, Co-op Atlantic and The Co-operators, and assistance also came from many current members, Board members and employees of the Sussex Co-op.
For generations, the Society has been an engine of economic development for its members and their communities, not only through its own activities as a farm co-op but also through various projects it has joined with others in making possible – for example am mutual insurance company, joint purchasing programs, and the beginnings of credit unions.
Furthermore, it has helped many of its members through numerous education and training programs and the provision of common services, such as communal pastures, to be more independent and successful farmers. This increased community wealth and independence does not appear on any balance sheet, but it is none-the-less of great importance. The book also highlights the extensive social contributions the Society has made throughout its history. . . the Society played major roles in youth programmes, in women’s activities, in supporting educational programmes (including scholarships), and in sponsoring team sports. For most of its history it organized fairs and exhibitions, which were community highlights and part of the seasonal rituals of local rural life.
In our archive, we include the book’s cover image, two audio recordings of songs created by community 4-H Club youth as part of a play to celebrate the book’s release, as well as a photo of the actors, and an article in The Atlantic Co-operator about the history of the co-op and the book launch. The creation of this book was supported by the Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network and the Co-operative Enterprise Council of New Brunswick (CEC-NB). Copies of the book may be obtained by contacting CEC-NB or Sussex Co-op directly.
Rethinking Co-operatives: Japanese-Canadian Fishing Co-operatives (Lee, Smallshaw and Peredo)
This paper by Jo-Ann Lee, Brian Smallshaw and Ana Maria Peredo draws on a case study of Japanese Canadian fishing co-ops on Canada’s West Coast at the beginning of the 20th century.
This case study is part of a larger project that takes a critical look at contemporary co-operative studies, entitled Co-operatives in Context: Race, Ethnicity, Displacement and Exclusion. Additional work from this project can be found in the housing section.
Some reflections from this project:
- There is an absence of work about the experiences of minority ethnic groups in Canadian co-operative literature, and the researchers argue that this is because dominant co-op discourses are Eurocentric and masculinized, and tend to overlook instances where co-ops have actually contributed to social exploitation, exclusion and marginalization.
- In other cases, co-operatives have been used by marginalized groups to resist racism and colonialism but again, these stories are often overlooked in the mainstream literature as the forms of co-operation used may not reflect the dominant view of co-operatives as specially incorporated entities who adhere to the Rochdale principles. This has resulted in a narrow view of co-operatives. (For example, co-operative forms that are non-incorporated or informal are more common in developing countries or in sectors where women predominate, but are often seen as less legitimate or ‘underdeveloped’.)
- There is a need to re-conceptualize co-operative theory and practice, in order open up co-operative studies to critical, anti-racist, decolonizing, and feminist perspectives.
The case study of the history of Japanese Canadian fishing co-ops contributes towards this critical perspective, concluding that fishing co-ops enabled Japanese Canadians to successfully compete in a restricted market, and resist racial discrimination from both the state and the fishing industry.
In the late 19th to early 20th century, Japanese Canadians on the west coast of BC were excluded from many professional occupations due to racist legislation and attitudes. This left fishing as one viable way to make an income – but “white” fishermen’s unions and co-operatives barred Japanese-Canadian and Aboriginal individuals from entry. Japanese-Canadian fishers instead created their own co-operative organizations, which were innovative hybrids of the collectively managed, community-based fishing organizations that had existed in Japan for centuries, and contemporary Canadian business structures.
The researchers look at how these Japanese-Canadian co-operatives have been disregarded in the “narrow ethnocentric perspective” of co-operative studies literature. For example, in a 1967 history of fishing co-operatives in BC, the author labels co-operatives with Japanese-Canadian members as “crytpo-co-operatives”, because they did not follow the principle of open membership. Yet the author fails to note that Japanese Canadian fishers were refused membership in the white fishing co-ops.
The researchers also observe that co-operative studies tend to focus on co-operatives that can trace their roots back to Rochdale. As such, many interesting variations on co-operative development (notably organizations with non-white members such as the Japanese-Canadian fishing co-ops) remain “obscured, overlooked, and outside the main narrative.”
An important element of this research project looks at how marginalized groups such as Japanese-Canadian fishers used the co-operative model not only to improve their economic situation, but also to secure a degree of self-determination, meet the social needs of their communities, and actively combat the institutional and systemic racism they faced on a daily basis. For example, one co-op’s constitution explicitly outlined the organization’s aim ‘to ameliorate the long-standing abuse of and to advance the interests of the Japanese who are engaged in the salmon fishery in and around the Fraser River’.
Some of the key projects taken on by various Japanese fishing co-operatives in British Columbia include:
- Building a community hospital to address the health impacts of cannery pollution and difficulties accessing the local “white” hospital;
- Organizing to resist the stronghold of canneries on the fishing industry, and bargaining for increased income for their members;
- Organizing to combat racist government legislation that restricted their fishing licenses and banned them from using motorized boats.
The researchers conclude that “Japanese Canadian fishing co-operatives enabled Japanese Canadian fishers to survive and even flourish . . . [while resisting] racist social and economic exclusion and discrimination.”
The full paper was published in the Community Development Journal in 2016 — The abstract can be viewed here.
Other Canadian Natural Resources Co-operative Research
The Socio-economic Impact of Cooperatives and Mutuals (Lafleur, Anne-Marie Merrien)
This study highlights international impacts of co-operatives and outlines key theories of the future of the sector. It featured eight Canadian coops in a study of 300 organizations worldwide. It provides perspective on the global cooperative movement and cases of innovation in environment, education, economic stabilization, and social outcomes.
Some of these cases include:
Quebec forestry co-operatives
“The Quebec forestry cooperatives are also well known for keeping jobs in the sector despite the crisis it presently faces. Where corporations would cease their activities, cooperatives often show patience and make a few sacrifices to continue to answer the needs of their members and the communities from which they have arisen.” (Gingras et al., 2007, p. 211). Found on page 12.
International networks of agricultural cooperatives
“The Agri Confiance initiative was launched by the (agricultural) farm cooperatives (125 presently participating) in answer to a request by consumers. The project revolves around a certification process regarding quality and environmental management encompassing all cooperative farm activity.” (15)
This work also makes interesting conclusions on the future of the co-operative movement and its place in social development, prominence in education and government practice, and theories on its role in economic growth.
Instructor, University of New Brunswick
Faculty Fellow, University of Victoria
Ana Maria Peredo
Director, Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy
Graduate Student, University of Victoria
Professor and Acting Assistant Dean, University of New Brunswick