By STEVE BINDER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indianapolis-based CountryMark, Indiana's only American-owned oil company in the United States and a member-owned cooperative, is a perfect picture of what went right with ag co-ops overall last year.
The fuel provider posted a 39.4 percent increase in net income for the year, raising its standing among all ag co-ops from 19th in 2010 to 17th in 2011. Charlie Smith, CountryMark’s president and CEO, said three factors contributed to its growth in 2011.
“One, we experienced record manufacturing efficiencies from our refinery in Mt. Vernon, Indiana. We sought ways to optimize operations while maintaining quality throughout the processes of crude oil gathering, refining and product distribution,” Smith explained.
“Two, we continued to see increased demand for and market acceptance of CountryMark Advantage Lubricants. And lastly, in the difficult economic conditions of 2011 … we worked with our branded dealers to focus on product quality, technical expertise and meeting individual customer and business needs. In the 2011 market economy, those brand principles resonated well with value-conscious consumers.”
CountryMark was among the best co-ops in terms of sales and income percentage increases last year, based on co-op data the USDA released last week. Overall, the 2,285 agriculture co-ops – including all farming, ranching and fishing cooperatives – posted total sales of approximately $213 billion, up by about $40 billion over 2010 totals and besting the 2008 record mark by $10 billion.
Net income for all co-ops was $5.4 billion, topping the previous record of $4.9 billion that was set in 2008. Net income was up by more than $1 billion, or 25 percent, from 2010.
Dallas Tonsager, the USDA’s undersecretary for rural development, released the data during a conference call last week planned, in part, to kick off National Cooperative Month. Tonsager noted co-ops play an important role in the ag industry throughout the country partly because they help provide goods to rural parts of America not traditionally served by private businesses.
He noted that higher commodity prices contributed to the record income and sales numbers, but also that overall production and employment were up.
“(Co-ops) employ people, they buy supplies, they contract with companies for services, they go into areas to a large extent that might not be served by the private sector,” Tonsager said. “What we have seen happen in the last several years is a very profound business skill set that these cooperatives have learned and follow, that really brings true value.”
Tonsager said co-op employment totaled about 184,000 last year for all full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs, up slightly from 2010. While the number of farm co-ops has dropped from 2,314 in 2010 to 2,285 last year – a decrease he attributed to mergers – memberships in co-ops and asset values are higher.
The USDA also released the country’s annual list of the largest 100 ag co-ops, available at www.rurdev.usda.gov
These 100 co-ops posted sales totaling $148 billion last year, an increase of about 30 percent over sales in 2010. Net income was $3.17 billion, up from $2.35 billion in 2010.
Saint Paul, Minn.-based CHS, Inc., an energy, farm supply, grain and food co-op, was again the top co-op last year with $36.9 billion in sales. No. 2 was Dairy Farmers of America, based in Kansas City, Mo., with $12.9 billion in sales.
Iowa has the most top 100 co-ops of any single state, at 14. Minnesota is next with 13, Nebraska with 10, California with six and Wisconsin with five.