Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by their members, who share in the co-op’s risks and returns. Since 1926, USDA has been conducting an annual formal survey of all agricultural cooperatives in the United States. In compiling data each year and tracking cooperatives and their trends, the Cooperative Services branch has noted that many cooperatives have been in business longer than the survey has been formally administered by the department.
This very fact points directly to the longevity and sustainability of the cooperative business model and this bulletin features a significant century cooperative in that light. Century cooperatives have been in business for at least 100 years and USDA’s co-op database shows that there will be 328 ag co-ops, or 18.8 percent of all ag co-ops, that are at least 100 years old by the end of 2021. In tracking co-ops over the years, USDA has found that there are a number of common keys to longevity that century cooperatives seem to possess.
Sioux Honey Association is one of the cooperatives joining the ranks of Century Cooperatives this year. In 1921, five beekeepers in Sioux City, Iowa, formed Sioux Honey Association, each contributing $200 (approximately $2,685 in 2021 dollars adjusted for inflation) to collectively market their 3,000 pounds of honey.
For perspective, in 1920 there were 540,917 farms in the U.S. with beehives. Of those, only 58 percent reported having production in 1919. At that time, the average number of hives on a farm was 8.2 and the total value of U.S. honey production was $13,988,670; which worked out to about $0.20 per pound.
Prior to WWI, beekeeping was simply one part of a farm operation, not a full-time occupation. The infrastructure necessary to bring honey to the market was poor which greatly restricted the size of market an individual producer could reach. After WWI, several factors contributed to the growth of the beekeeping industry: highways were constructed allowing for more widely motorized travel, sugar demand increased due to shortages, honey packing houses were created, and hive management techniques improved. Thus, the industry was just beginning to develop to where a beekeeper could work full time at this craft. By 1957, there were an estimated 1,200 full-time beekeepers minding 1,400,000 colonies.