I was recently sitting around a table with four Texas A&M Extension educators planning some joint meetings with them, and the topic of pooling resources came up. This is not a new concept, but, in light of all the people that are moving to smaller acreages with a lack of resources, we were discussing ways to use this to help our mutual clientele. Let's face it - it is difficult to justify having haying equipment when all you have is 10 acres. However, if you and your neighbors can work together, why not pool your resources?
Small acreage producers, and even larger producers, can benefit from associations and cooperatives. These may include the small producer that doesn't have enough land to have 10 head of cattle grazing their property or the person who would like to produce small square bales to market to horse owners, but doesn't have all the equipment they need.
Associations and cooperatives might provide a way to change this. These organizations and groups have been around for many years. Agricultural cooperatives have been formed to maximize purchasing power for farm and ranch supplies. Marketing associations have been formed to obtain the best possible price for agricultural goods and products. The need for or mission of the association or cooperative is only limited by the imagination (and members comprising your group).
How small or large can these cooperatives or associations be? Several small acreage cooperators may be able to band together to purchase large numbers of cattle and have enough forage to prevent overgrazing. If your neighbor has a hay rake and sprayer, and you have a tractor and baler, perhaps it would be possible for the two of you to form an "alliance" to increase your efficiency while reducing your costs. It can be as simple as loaning your equipment out to others with the understanding that others will loan you their equipment.
A critical factor for the success of associations and cooperatives is the perception that the members have. They must feel that they have been treated fairly in the handling of the products, money, their time, their equipment and/or in the marketing of resulting products. The foundation of any association or cooperative is its members. They must share a common problem and then work together to address it. Also, remember that members may someday outgrow the need for the association, so plan for this eventuality.
Maximizing your efficiency and reducing the cost of production is not the only benefit of cooperatives and associations. You can benefit from your neighbors' knowledge, get to know your neighbors, share labor and tools, and increase your involvement in your community.
Russell Stevens, a Noble Research Institute wildlife specialist, once commented on deer management associations, "The people-management aspect of forming an association is often the most difficult. When this is solved and an association is formed, the resource management task at hand - whether deer population management or prescribed burning - is usually the easy part."