Looking at the entire ag co-op sector, grain and oilseed sales by cooperatives climbed by almost $14 billion in 2011, while dairy product marketing increased by $8 billion. Cotton sales increased more than $1.5 billion while livestock and sugar sales both gained more than $600 million. Sales of farm supplies increased by $10 billion, primarily due to increasing energy prices. Farm supply co-ops recorded gains of more than $3 billion for petroleum products, while sales were up by $1 billion for fertilizer, feed and crop protectants.

Marketing of food, fiber, renewable fuels and farm supplies by cooperatives experienced 24 percent increases over the previous year, according to the annual survey conducted by the Cooperative Programs office of USDA Rural Development. Gross business volume of $213 billion was the largest ever, as was net income before taxes.

The value of cooperative assets in 2011 grew by about $13 billion, with liabilities increasing by $11 billion and owner equity gaining $2 billion. Equity capital remains low but is clearly showing an upward trend, with an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

Patronage income (refunds from other cooperatives due to sales between cooperatives) fell by more than 11 percent, to $613 million, down from $674 million in 2010.

Farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives remain one of the largest employers in many rural communities and also provide jobs in many cities. The total farm co-op workforce of 184,000 was up slightly from 2010. While full-time jobs at co-ops increased by 1,800, the number of part-time and seasonal employees declined by 1,600.

There was a continued downward trend in farm numbers, with USDA counting 2.2 million farms in 2011, down about 10,000 from 2010. The number of farmer cooperatives continues to decline; there are now 2,285 farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives, down from 2,314 in 2010. Mergers account for most of the drop, resulting in larger cooperatives.

Producers held 2.3 million memberships in cooperatives in 2011, up 2 percent from 2010. The number of U.S. farms and cooperative memberships are now about equal. This does not mean that every producer is a member of an agricultural cooperative. Previous studies have found that many farmers and ranchers are members of up to three cooperatives, so farm numbers and cooperative memberships are not strictly comparable.

For more in-depth information about how the nation's agricultural cooperatives performed in 2011, see the September-October issue of USDA's Rural Cooperatives magazine at: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_Coop_RurCoopMag.html.