For 65 Years, USDA's Magazine Has Helped Guide Co-op Movement
By Patrick Duffey, Communications Specialist, USDA Rural Development
Editor's Note: Duffey was editor of "Farmer Cooperatives" magazine from 1981 until 1992, when he switched to editing USDA's special cooperative reports. The winner of the Klinefelter Award - the industry's highest honor for cooperative communicators - he returned to the editor's chair to produce this special issue of the magazine.
The spring of 1999 marks the
65th anniversary of USDAs journal for cooperatives. The monthly "News for
Farmer Cooperatives," the forerunner of today's bimonthly "Rural
Cooperatives" magazine, was first published by the cooperative research and service
division of the Farm Credit Administration, then an agency of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. The nation and its agricultural sector were emerging from the Great
Depression when USDA introduced this magazine to help spread knowledge about farmer-owned
cooperatives and what was required to make a success of them.
It appeared quietly, with little fanfare in April 1934. Although initially limited in circulation, word of its existence spread and demand for copies grew. The original issues were just 12 typewritten pages.
Like any publication with an extended life, the content, style and even the name of the magazine evolved over the years to suit the conditions of its day. In December 1953, FCA separated from USDA and became an independent regulatory and farm credit system promotion agency. USDAs Farmer Cooperative Service was formed at the same time, and assumed responsibility for the magazine, the name of which was shortened to "Farmer Cooperatives."
Upon his retirement as governor of the Farm Credit Administration, E.A. Jaenke, left, is congratulated by "Giff" Hoag, his executive assistant and long-time editor of this journal.
In its 65-year span, the
publication has had 10 editors. The third one, the late W Gifford ("Giff') Hoag,
later went on to become executive assistant to E.A. Jaenke, then governor of the FCA. In a
book he wrote about FCA/FCS, Hoag, who served the agency for 41 years, recalled,
"It's amazing that the one-year-old FCA could find time to launch a new educational
publication. It was trying to help the Federal Land Banks (FLBs) handle thousands of loan
applications. The banks had closed $27 million in loans in one day that year, more than
the entire year 1932. FCA was launching 600 local Production Credit Associations (PCAs)
and the 13 Banks for Cooperatives. Usually, in times of stress in cooperatives,
educational and informational programs are the first to feel the pinch."
Hoag continued, "A year later, President Franklin Roosevelt closed all commercial banks. The bank holiday lasted several days. In succeeding months, the president asked any farm family whose farm was being foreclosed to wire him. Wires and letters inundated the FCA and the Federal Land Banks." The ensuing flood of communications from farmers took a three-shift stenographers' pool to handle, he said. "Creditors were being asked to delay foreclosures until the FLBs could try to refinance (loans). FCA recruited hundreds of people and expanded its appraisal staff from 200 to more than 5,000 in less than a year."
Many cooperatives failed and countless others were struggling financially. "The Banks for Cooperatives were being staffed to meet the challenge," Hoag said. The organization of PCAs across the country had been completed, thus giving farmers access to operating money for the year.
Hoag joined discussions with Cooperative Commissioner Frank Peck and Information and Extension Director Ed Reid when they agreed to develop a monthly publication as an important part in communicating with farm supply and marketing cooperatives. At first, there were no photos in the magazine, although an occasional graph was used to illustrate research. Within two years, "News for Farmer Cooperatives" was being printed in a slick magazine format, began using black-and-white photographs and often ran more than 20 pages per issue.
USDA magazine editor Beryle Stanton was credited for carrying the banner for the first National Cooperative Month observance.
During the editorship of the
late Ms. Beryle Stanton, who worked with both Val Sherman and Hoag in FCA during World War
II, more visuals, including cartoons, came into use to illustrate ideas. She encouraged
many people from the cooperative community to write articles for her. From the beginning,
articles were published about the agency's useful research projects, "but (we)
avoided making the magazine only a house organ," Hoag said. The magazine became an
instrument for promoting practices that improved cooperative operations.
Ms. Stanton had the longest tenure of any of the editors - 21 years, from 1950 to 1971- and had worked on it with Hoag in FCA six years before that. In 1964, she began carrying the banner for the first national observance of "October is Cooperative Month.' She saw the swift changes cooperatives had to make "as they faced hot and cold wars in the mid-century era, struggled to survive post-war depressions, grew through relative prosperity, geared up for swiftly emerging new technologies and management practices, and adapted to the fast changing and modernized agriculture."
People working with cooperatives also changed during this time. At first, cooperative directors were typically small farm operators with a limited education. By the late 1960s, many, if not most, co-op directors were well educated and managed large farm operations, which gave them an expanded perspective in making decisions on cooperative boards.
"Cooperative employees also adapted to new agricultural and industrial demands. Women, young farm couples, and youth emerged as stronger voices and more interested participants in cooperatives." Stanton felt cooperative people were "a different breed, more giving, and more sophisticated than they used to be, but they still have that same spirit."
In a final magazine article before FCAs exit from the USDA in December 1953, FCS Governor C. R. Arnold said the magazine "is an effective means of helping to coordinate the work of all cooperatives in the country - credit as well as purchasing, marketing and service organizations. Farmer cooperatives throughout the country profit from its published results on current research related to farmer cooperatives, information based on experience of all kinds of farmer cooperatives, and general educational material on basic cooperative principles and problems."
Gene Ingalsbe was the fifth editor and, like his successors, he came from a newspaper background and later worked as communication specialist for major cooperatives. He spent eight years as managing editor of "Farmland News" for Farmland Industries Inc., and two years editing an agricultural trade magazine before joining USDA. For a time, he was both magazine editor and director of information. He bridged the gap between the early years of the Farmer Cooperative Service and later Agricultural Cooperative Service. He brought modern journalism practices and a professional touch to the magazine.
Patrick Duffey edited the magazine from 1981 to 1993 after spending an earlier 12 years as publicity director and magazine editor with GROWMARK, Inc., at Bloomington, Ill. Near the end of his tenure, the magazine made the leap to four-color reproduction. His successor, Dan Campbell, came to USDA after working for newspapers and as an editor with the Blue Diamond Growers almond cooperative in California. He continued to emphasize quality photography and in-depth feature articles. About this time the name of the magazine was changed to "Rural Cooperatives" to reflect the inclusion of articles dealing with all types of rural cooperatives, although the emphasis has remained on agricultural co-ops. Campbell was later named deputy director of public affairs for USDAs Rural Development mission area.
While editors have come and gone and the look and content of the magazine continues to evolve, the magazine's goal remains much the same as when founded: to promote the use of cooperatives by rural Americans as an effective way to improve their quality of life.
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