Filling the Gap

At 25, Arthur Capper Cooperative Center
is a major force for co-op education

By Seleise Barrett, Alicia Goheen
and Gloria Holcombe

Editor’s note:Barrett is educational
program manager for the Arthur Capper
Cooperative Center at Kansas State
University; Goheen is an agricultural
economics communications analyst, and
Holcombe is an editor for the College of
Agriculture at Kansas State University.

n Kansas and across the Midwest, when most people think of a cooperative, they picture grain elevators — those tall, white “castles of the plains.” Today, agricultural cooperatives are usually much more than the grain companies they began life as more than 100 years ago. Farmer co-ops have evolved, along with the farmer-members who own and govern them, and who accrue benefits based on their patronization of co-ops.

Farmer co-ops are now typically large, diversified agribusinesses. As such, most of them not only market their members’ grain, but also provide them with fertilizer, fuel, feed and other farm inputs. Many farmer co-ops also provide agronomic services to members. It is not uncommon for these co-ops to have sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars and to employ more than 100 people.

Large or small, these co-ops are a vital part of the rural agricultural economy. Agricultural cooperatives, and co-ops in general, use a unique form of business that also has unique educational needs. For example, the principles of governance, finance and strategy must be adjusted and integrated to fit the principles underlying the cooperative business model.

The Arthur Capper Cooperative Center (ACCC or “Center”) at Kansas State University (K-State) recently celebrated 25 years of providing education and research-based information to students and to the leaders, employees and farmer-members of agricultural cooperatives and to stakeholders in other types of cooperatives.

During the past 25 years, ACCC's education programs have also evolved to help meet the needs of these modern and successful cooperative agribusinesses.

Successful public-private
partnership: Bridging the gap

“The Center was established in 1984, at the request of the cooperative business community, as a public-private partnership between K-State and the Kansas Cooperative Council — the agent for all types of cooperatives in Kansas,” says Dr. David Barton, professor of agricultural economics and ACCC director.

In the early 1980s, cooperative leaders felt there was a strong need for more co-op education, and they wanted K-State to significantly enhance its coop educational programs. The Council offered to raise a $1 million endowment and to provide in-kind advice and support. The Center began operations in 1985 once the minimum start-up goal of $250,000 had been raised.

Kansas cooperative leaders had the foresight to act before Kansas joined the ranks of other states that lost their cooperative education programs due to faculty retirements, budget cuts and changing priorities at universities. The public-private partnership agreement creating the ACCC was signed on June 11, 1984, and was witnessed by 14 founders, including cooperative leaders and university faculty.

ACCC marked its 25th anniversary in late 2009 at the annual Symposium and Leadership Roundtable for cooperative leaders. The silver anniversary was chosen to celebrate and honor the spirit of the Kansas cooperative community’s effort to enhance co-op education by establishing the ACCC. Six of the original founders of the Center attended the gathering, which included current co-op leaders, university faculty and students.

Name and work honor
co-op giant

The Center bears the name of Arthur Capper, a prominent figure in the history of agricultural cooperatives and Kansas, says Barton, who helped found ACCC and has served as its director since 1984. Capper was a fiveterm U.S. senator and leader of the farm bloc in the Senate.

Capper co-sponsored the 1922 federal Capper-Volstead Act, which clarified the antitrust status of agricultural marketing cooperatives. The law provides a limited antitrust exemption allowing farmers to join together to market their products without violating antitrust laws. Capper was also a two-term governor of Kansas, newspaper publisher (“Topeka Daily Capital,” among others) and a philanthropist (Capper Foundation for Crippled Children).

“The Center’s primary goal is to help people understand the nature and role of cooperatives in our society,” Barton says. “We focus first on educating students at K-State and leaders of Kansas cooperatives, but we also work with students and cooperative leaders in many other states and in some other countries.

“We are proactive in learning about issues faced by a wide range of leaders and organizations, searching for and constructing research-based educational programs to address those issues, and sharing that knowledge with a very wide audience,” Barton continues. “In doing so, we promote understanding of the unique cooperative business form, including its advantages and disadvantages, and then helping cooperatives be successful.

“It is clear to me that if we didn’t have co-ops, we would need to invent them.”

Positioned for the future
An advisory council — comprised of cooperative leaders and university faculty — meets annually to discuss past accomplishments and set future goals for the program. This is done with an eye on the Center’s mission and vision: to serve as a premier center of excellence in cooperative education and to be the first choice of those interested in cooperative education.

These expectations, in combination with the guidance and accountability built into the organizational culture, have helped the ACCC become recognized as a leading center of excellence in cooperative education. The Center’s programs are now in high demand in Kansas and in many other states.

“For the last 10 years, finance, strategy and governance have been the most significant issues [being focused on by the Center],” Barton says. “Now, risk management and human resource management have risen in importance for both cooperatives and their members. We share our knowledge on these critical issues with cooperative leaders in many states, at the request of educational and industry organizations in those states, through our curriculumoriented educational programs and special assistance projects.”

Dr. Michael Boland, professor of agricultural economics and associate director of the center, leads the studentrelated educational activities, conducts research and participates in many of the outreach programs.

“Cooperatives are a major employer in rural Kansas communities,” Boland says. “In my class, I integrate case studies to help educate students about cooperatives. I also prepare case studies, conduct research projects and participate as an organizer and instructor in the extension-oriented leadership education programs.”

Three-dimensional program
ACCC’s portfolio of educational programs span all three dimensions of land-grant universities — teaching, research and extension, or outreach — and focus primarily on two audiences: students and cooperative leaders.

Programs for students include scholarships, internships, cooperativestudy tours, development of case studies, development of a textbook on cooperatives, integration of cooperative knowledge into university courses, and supervision of graduate students writing theses on cooperative topics.

Programs for co-op leaders include a symposium, CEO roundtable and cooperative marketing leader roundtable, all of which are held annually. It also facilitates board retreats, financial planning projects, one-day seminars on governance, finance and strategic thinking, and other special projects addressing current issues.

An on-going challenge will be the retention and recruitment of faculty to lead, develop and deliver cutting-edge programs. The current director, David Barton, is approaching normal retirement age and says he expects to hand over the leadership reins to a successor in the near future. Boland, professor in agricultural economics and the associate director, is expected to be his successor.

The hope is that additional faculty can be hired to participate in the educational programs of the center as current faculty retire or leave, even though budget pressures will make this a challenge. A development campaign is currently underway to enhance the endowment fund and to create distinguished faculty positions to recruit and retain faculty.

Sources of success
The ACCC’s 25th anniversary celebration event provided information about why, and how, the Center was organized, who was involved and what it has accomplished.

At the event, Barton said there are five key sources of the Center’s past and future success: For more information about the Arthur Capper Cooperative Center, go to

Students and co-op leaders reap lasting benefits from program

Jeff Bechard was the first ACCC coop student intern in 1985. He completed his internship at Farmway Co-op in Beloit, Kan., and is now president of AgMark LLC, a grain marketing company in Beloit owned by several co-ops, including Farmway Co-op.

“While at K-State, I worked for Dr. Barton and took his class on ag cooperatives,” Bechard says. “I learned a lot about cooperatives, thanks to him. I appreciate being able to attend the center’s high-quality educational programs, such as the CEO Roundtable for Cooperative Managers. Also, the generous scholarships provided to college students are another terrific benefit.” The ACCC has awarded $314,700 in scholarships on behalf of the cooperative community since 1985.

Ashley Guenther, a senior majoring in ag communications and journalism and ag economics, is one of the students benefiting from ACCC scholarships and a co-op internship. She received a CHS Foundation University Scholarship in 2008 and the Otis and Mary Lee Molz Cooperative Scholarship in 2009.

“The Molzes are well-known, respected leaders in the state, national and international co-op community,” Barton said. “Now, they’re encouraging the next generation to plan a future with cooperatives. They established their annual scholarship in 2005 and actively participate in the scholarship interview and selection process.”

“Having Mr. and Mrs. Molz involved in the interview process made receiving this scholarship more valuable to me,” Guenther says. “I was able to openly share my career passions and lifetime goals and visit with two amazing stewards of the cooperative education community. My hope is to work with agriculturalists in third-world countries, as the Molzes have done. I was very impressed by their care and concern for me as a student and as a future leader in agriculture.”

Last summer, Guenther interned at CHS Inc., a Fortune 500 company and the largest regional agricultural cooperative in the country, owned by U.S. local agricultural cooperatives and agricultural producers. “During my summer at CHS Inc. in Minnesota, I split my time between the marketing communications group and the CHS Foundation,” Guenther says.

As part of her duties, she helped with the filming of a tribute to the Arthur Capper Cooperative Center and the educational partnership with CHS, shown at CHS’s annual meeting.

Terry Kohler, general manager of Farmers Cooperative Elevator in Cheney, Kan., became directly involved with the ACCC while serving on the Kansas Cooperative Council (KCC) board. When he became board chairman of KCC, he also became chairman of the 15-member ACCC Advisory Council. After leaving the KCC board, he continued as a member of the advisory council and also became chair of the KCC's Development Campaign to increase the financial resources in the endowment supporting the ACCC.

Kohler is a strong supporter of education for cooperative leaders, noting that the KCC, with assistance from the ACCC, offers the Director Development Program, a four-course leadership education program. The board of directors at his cooperative requires all new directors to complete the courses during their first threeyear terms on the board

“The Center has been very important in the education of cooperative leaders in dealing with timely issues and subjects,” Kohler said. “I have especially appreciated the annual Symposium on Cooperative Issues targeted at Kansas co-op leaders, and the special assistance projects the center offers to individual co-ops to improve their financial planning, such as income distribution and equity management strategies.”

May/June Table of Contents