Page from the Past

From the archives of Rural Cooperatives

From the March 1960 issue of News for Farmer Cooperatives

Pendleton Grain: Co-op in Motion
Integrated and diversified services have built this Oregon co-op into one of the largest local associations serving a single rural community A new Skyscraper of the Sagebrush – a pushbutton feed mill eight stories high — began running full blast out eastern Oregon way early last March. This new feed mill of Pendleton (Oregon) Grain Growers Inc., stands alone and 220 feet tall, about two miles out in the sagebrush country from Hermiston.

It looks out over the long vistas and varied views of Umatilla County – a county where progressive ranchers have built a cooperative with the variety and scope to match their land, and one that’s grown into one of the largest local operations in the country, with dollar volume last year of $16 million.

Pendleton Grain Growers (PGG) is a cooperative in motion. It has taken on the frontiersman spirit still present in our last great frontier, the Pacific Northwest. Its management has had the verve and the vision to hew out some new and interesting activities and, at the same time, keep to the fundamentals of their co-op’s business.

Grain is the farming core for this community, thus the coop is built on a grain marketing foundation. But the association keeps fluid, and things are made to happen. We’ll take two recent activities to illustrate this: using more local grain in the big new feed mill and setting up a demonstration ranch to encourage the restoration of a livestock and poultry industry once important here.

The new mill has a completely automatic mixing system for 160 tons of finished and pelleted feed for each 8-hour shift. Its eight doors have bins and modern equipment and facilities to turn out a complete line of feeds. The mill has a $30,000 corn dryer and molasses mixing equipment. Outside, it has storage space and sheds to handle large quantities of hay and forage. In a separate building is the hay wafer machine.

The second example of this co-op’s ability to “think big” is the aim to reverse the market-outlet structure for the region. As part of a larger educational program, the co-op has set up an irrigated livestock ranch as a subsidiary corporation. The aim of this demonstration project is to be a catalytic agent to help build back the feeding and livestock industry of the region — one that’s gone consistently downhill in the last two decades.

The ranch has eight full-time employees, with collegetrained men supervising. It uses PGG feeds in its various livestock and poultry enterprises.

Charles F. Baker, general manager of the Pacific Supply Cooperative, says of PGG, “Its keynote for success has been good management. And it shows what can be done with foresight and vision, and the courage to move into new and right directions.”

From the March 1980 issue of
Farmer Cooperatives

U.S., Dutch Co-ops Enter World Trade Markets

“They shake hands today,” said George van den Berg, “the farm in Indiana, and the farm in Holland.” As head of the Cebeco-Handelsraad of Rotterdam, a Dutch agricultural cooperative, he spoke recently to Indiana co-op members about a joint venture which brings together European and North American partners. Participating co-op sales’ volume totals $17 billion.

Van den Berg spoke to the Indiana Farm Bureau Inc., and the Indiana Farm Bureau Cooperative Association Inc., during their annual meetings in Indianapolis.

Seven North American cooperatives joined with four European cooperatives last year to purchase a controlling interest in Alfred C. Toepfer Export Inc., a major international commodities trading firm headquartered in Hamburg, West Germany.

The deal puts the two groups of cooperatives directly into the international commodities trading markets – markets now dominated by five privately held multinational firms.

Concentration in world markets
Awareness by European and American cooperative leaders about the concentration of commodities trading on the international markets has been a key factor. This awareness, on both sides of the Atlantic, brought on a series of meetings that led to the acquisition.

A prior feasibility study had concluded: “In order to fortify and maintain the position of the cooperatives in the domestic market, it is necessary to have a foothold in the exportimport market.”

The study envisioned an organization that could originate and distribute products on both ends of the line, and be multinational with offices in the most important countries involved in origination and consumption.

Toepfer Export, which is involved in grain and feedstuffs trading, filled the bill perfectly, said van den Berg. It has a turnover of 16 to 20 million tons annually — about 10 percent of world trade — and has subsidiaries in 18 countries around the world.

He said that United States and European cooperatives do not differ basically, although in Europe they are more widespread, probably because they originated there. They also market many different commodities, and their influence is accordingly strong.
B Van den Berg’s own Dutch co-op is one of the four involved in the new venture. Two others are German and one is French. Sales volume of the four totals about $10 billion.

The North American co-ops, in addition to the Indiana Farm Bureau Cooperative, are: Gold Kist Inc.; Land O’Lakes; Citrus World Inc.; Landmark Inc.; Agway Inc.; and United Cooperatives of Ontario. The seven have total sales of about $7 billion.

From the March/April 2000 issue of
Rural Cooperatives

Fingers and Needles
Alaskan co-op turns cashmere-soft musk ox wool into hard cash

Soft yet sturdy. Thin but warm. That’s how Sigrun Robertson describes the garments marketed by the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative.

“Qiviut is similar to fine cashmere,” explains Robertson. She has been with the cooperative since it began in 1969 and now serves as its executive director. “And our members love working with this beautiful fiber to make beautiful products. They’re artisans,” she adds.

Mention musk oxen to most people in the lower 48 states, and their questioning eyebrows belie the fact they know little about this cousin to sheep and goats. But in the open tundra and well-vegetated terrain of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, this short-legged, massively built animal with broad, downcurving horns and an ankle-length outer coat is well known. Alaskan agriculture has helped the musk ox industry evolve into a sustainable enterprise.

The domestication of the musk ox and the start-up of the Oomingmak cooperative are tightly interwoven. By 1969, enough qiviut had been converted to yarn to put it into production. The first 25 knitters were all from Mekoryuk, Alaska, located on Nunivak Island. They were encouraged to try the fiber and they enlisted as the cooperative’s founding members. Research had shown qiviut was better suited to knitting than weaving, and knitting was a skill Eskimos had learned from missionaries.

The fine needles required for the delicate patterns also meant less equipment and little financial investment, Robertson says.

The patterns were adopted from traditional village life and Eskimo culture — from 1,200-year-old artifacts to beadwork designs. The patterns were converted into graphic instructions easily understood by the older women, most of whom were not familiar with the complex written English instructions used in typical knitting patterns. Workshops were held so members could learn how to read the patterns and complete the lace-like stitches. More importantly, members learned how to handle qiviut.

“It’s spun much finer than what you’re used to with other yarns,” Robertson explains.

Today, more than 200 knitter-members, ranging in age from pre-teens to octogenarians, own Oomingmak. Many are related or are close friends who helped each other get started knitting and into the cooperative. All are women, though men have been members in the past, and nearly all the members are Alaskan Eskimos, who work from home in villages ranging from 150 to 300 people.

“I’m not sure what tomorrow’s challenges will be,” she adds. “But I do know they will center around fingers and needles,” she adds.

March/April Table of Contents