The Farmers Union has a rich history with cooperative business development.

From its founding, the Farmers Union has promoted farmer-owned cooperatives as a way to level the economic playing field for family farmers. The Farmers Union itself is a service cooperative formed for the benefit of its farmer members.

Over the past century, the Farmers Union has helped organize farmers to form:

  • Purchasing cooperatives, where farmers join together to purchase their supplies and inputs;
  • Marketing cooperatives, where farmers join together to sell their milk, crops and meat to consumers; and
  • Services cooperatives, which include rural electric cooperatives and credit unions.

With the rapid growth of local and regional food systems in Iowa, we see a renewed need for the development of farmer-owned cooperatives to allow farmers to pool their resources to achieve an economically viable scale for distribution, marketing, processing and storage – without sacrificing local ownership and control.

The Iowa Farmers Union works with its members to provide education and resources on cooperatives business development and to support a new generation of farmer-owned cooperatives.

Some major milestones in the Farmers Union’s history of cooperative development include:

  • 1903: the Farmers Union founds its first marketing cooperative
  • 1923: the Farmers Union successfully lobbies for passage of the Capper-Volstead Act, paving the way for the development of agricultural cooperatives across the country
  • 1926: the Farmers Union forms the Farmers Union Terminal Association, a regional grain marketing cooperative that would later become Harvest States
  • 1927: the Farmers Union launches the Farmers Union Central Exchange, a regional supply cooperative that would later become Cenex. Local Farmers Union cooperatives would pool supply orders that the Central Exchange would then contract for in bulk, producing significant savings for farmers.
  • 1930s: the Farmers Union successfully lobbies for the Farm Credit Act of 1933 and the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, which helped organize and capitalize cooperatives across the country, including rural electric and rural telephone cooperatives formed to bring electricity and phone service to underserved rural communities.


Cooperative Resources:

USDA Rural Development Cooperative Programs

USDA’s How to Start a Cooperative

Rural Cooperatives Magazine

Iowa Farmers Union
PO Box 1883 Ames, IA 50010-1883
[email protected]