About the Conference

Today, many cooperatives are at the forefront of agribusiness innovation. Cooperatives are being created in the renewable energy and other sectors to help farmers capture the full rewards of new market opportunities. Some existing cooperatives have modified their financial and ownership structures in order to remain competitive in today's global marketplace while continuing to meet the needs of their diverse memberships. Recent changes in state laws allow unprecedented prospects for the evolution of the cooperative model.

The 7th Annual Farmer Cooperatives Conference, Cooperative Innovation, highlighted the innovative activities of our agricultural cooperatives. Cooperative leaders from around the country who have successfully initiated novel approaches within their organization or helped start new ventures presented their perspectives at the conference. They stressed the importance of focusing efforts and establishing policies for change. They also described a variety of tools for innovation , including new insurance vehicles and accessing new capital markets.



Note: Most of these presentations are available in html format and as a pdf document. In most cases, clicking on the name of the presenter will take you to a html version of the presentation. For a printable version, we suggest that you click on the link 'pdf' at the end of the presenter's title."

Monday, November 1
7:00 amRegistration and continental breakfast
8:00 amWelcome remarks
8:15 amWhat is cooperative innovation?
  • Kim Zeuli, Assistant Professor and Conference Coordinator pdf
8:30 amNew Energy for Cooperatives
  • Moderator: Bob Cropp, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
  • Raymond E. Defenbaugh, President and CEO, Big River Resources Ethanol Plant (Illinois) pdf
  • John Eggleston, Board President, Northeast Missouri Grain Processors, Inc. (Missouri) pdf
  • Martha Davis , Executive Manager for Policy Development, Inland Empire Utilities Agency (California) pdf
  • New energy ventures are capturing the attention of farmers across the country. This session highlights the experiences of farmers who have created new energy initiatives in three states and the opportunities for future development in the industry. Can their success be replicated? They will tell us the lessons they have learned along the way.

9:45 amBreak
10:00 amCo-op Innovation - Challenges & Opportunities
  • Moderator: Shermain Hardesty, Extension Economist, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of California-Davis
  • Don Nugent, President & CEO, Graceland Fruit, Inc. (Michigan) pdf
  • Jeff Nielsen, General Manager, United Farmers Cooperative (Minnesota) pdf
  • Brad Boner, Chairman, Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (Wyoming) pdf

Don Nugent kicks-off this session by describing some of the challenges and opportunities he has encountered using the cooperative model to create a truly entrepreneurial fruit marketing enterprise. Jeff Nielsen follows with a description of several innovative programs his local cooperative is initiating, including one in insurance. Jeff will tell us how local cooperatives can achieve such a high level of innovation. Brad Boner concludes the session with an overview of the unique structure of their Wyoming co-op. Why and how did a group of lamb producers help establish a new cooperative model in Wyoming?

11:30 amA Legal Perspective on Co-op Innovation
  • Moderator: Ashwini Rao, Associate Outreach Specialist, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
  • Mark J. Hanson , Attorney & Partner, Lindquist & Vennum PLLP pdf
  • Dave Swanson , Partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLP pdf

The architects of the new cooperative state laws and advisors to numerous agricultural cooperatives across the US provide their perspective on the challenges and opportunities to cooperative innovation.

NoonLunch (Sponsored by Land O'Lakes, Inc.)
1:00 pmLoosening Capitalization Constraints - Co-op and Member Perspectives
  • Moderator: Steven Montgomery, Executive Vice President, Cobank
  • Gene Carbone , Former CFO, Calavo Growers pdf
  • William Harris , Pro-Fac Cooperative Member and Investor in Birds Eye Foods pdf

This session will provide two perspectives on the issues surrounding cooperative conversions to capital stock corporations. Gene Carbone will discuss the motivation for the conversion of Calavo Growers in 2001, how it was structured, and why it is successful. Last year Pro-Fac CEO & General Manager Steve Wright described his co-op's conversion in 2002. This year, William Harris will provide a farmer-member perspective on the conversion.

2:15 pmBreak
2:45 pmSuccess with Inventive Joint Ventures
  • Moderator: Bob Bass, First Vice Chairman, CHS Board of Directors
  • John McEnroe, Vice-President, Country Operations, CHS Inc.
  • John Shelford, President, Global Berry Farms pdf

John McEnroe will discuss the CHS "Regionalization" concept and their unique solution to partnering with locals while John Shelford will shed light on the creative joint ventures underpinning the success of Global Berry Farms.

3:45 pm Partnership Perils: A tale of two cities
  • Troy Upah, CEO, Ag Partners LLC (Albert City, Iowa) pdf
  • Sue Tronchetti, Board Director, AGRI Industries (Des Moines, Iowa) pdf
  • Discussant: Roger Ginder , Professor, Department of Economics, Iowa State University pdf

This session highlights both the success and difficulties cooperatives may experience partnering with investor-owned firms. Troy Upah will talk about the successful partnership Ag Partners has with Cargill and Sue Tronchetti will discuss AGRI Industries' decision to dissolve their long partnership with Cargill (called AGM) and their new initiatives with Bunge.

5:00 pmAdjourn
Reception & Evening Banquet
5:30 pmReception
6:00 pm Cooperative Links in the Food Chain

Gary will provide a brief overview of his successful firm's governance structure and interesting history followed by insights into the challenges facing wholesale grocers such as AWG and where that industry might be headed in the future. Introduced by Mike Boland, Associate Director, Arthur Capper Cooperative Center, Kansas State University.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004
7:30 amContinental Breakfast (Sponsored by Eide Bailly LLP)
8:00 amMarketing Strategies in Troubled Times
  • Moderator: Brian Henehan, Senior Extension Associate and Program Leader, Cornell Cooperative Enterprise, Cornell University
  • Rick Smith, CEO of Dairylea, President, Council Operations for DFA
  • Walter Lincer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Florida's Natural Growers pdf

Rick Smith will discuss the Dairylea and DFA Dairy Marketing Services (DMS) venture, a milk-marketing organization that combines the milk supplies of independent and cooperative farms. Walt Lincer will explain the thinking behind the unique co-op positioning of Florida's Natural Brand that has allowed the relatively small co-op to compete with the world's two biggest beverage manufacturers.

9:00 amLeading the Way: How to Foster Innovative and Effective Cooperative Leadership
  • Mike Toelle, Chairman, Board of Directors, CHS Inc. pdf
  • Jim Rainey, former CEO, Farmland Industries pdf
  • Discussant: David Barton, Director, Arthur Capper Cooperative Center

Mike Toelle will talk about CHS's attempt to capture university creativity and other ideas for keeping their board innovative. Jim Rainey will draw on his years of experience to provide a CEO's perspective on board innovation and effectiveness.

10:15 amBreak
10:45 amInfluencing Policy Makers in a Changing Environment
  • Moderator: Kim Zeuli, Assistant Professor & Chair of the Planning Committee, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
  • Jean-Mari Peltier, President and CEO, NCFC pdf
11:15Resources to Support Co-op Innovation
  • Moderator: Anne Reynolds, Interim Director, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
  • Chris Peterson, Professor, Michigan State University, Co-director, MSU Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources pdf
11:45 amClosing Comments: William Nelson, President, CHS Foundation and The Co-op Foundation pdf