Professor sees bright future for cooperatives, industry
Agricultural cooperatives, though smaller in numbers, are providing more goods and services than ever before in Texas, and new ventures may occur in the future, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
"If you look at the amount of business those co-ops are doing, they are actually doing more business than they used to," said Dr. John Park, AgriLife Extension economist and a Roy B. Davis professor of agricultural cooperation at Texas A&M University. "Those cooperatives represent a large amount in terms of dollars of equity and a large economic contribution by these farmers through a cooperative business."
Park recently was named to the Davis endowed professorship and serves both AgriLife Extension and the agricultural economics department at Texas A&M in dual teaching outreach roles.
An agricultural cooperative is where farmers pool their resources in certain areas of activity. Conducting research on trends and advising agricultural cooperatives is one of Park's main responsibilities.
"One of the things we are doing now is trying to document the economic contributions of cooperatives through Texas, working through the Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council," he said. "They're very interested in seeing this done, their individual members are interested in seeing this done because it means more support and more dollars when talking to legislators."
Park's research and educational responsibilities as part of the endowed professorship extend beyond agricultural cooperatives. For example, he and others assisted the Texas citrus industry by exploring the market potential of a fresh-cut grapefruit retail product.
"Texas grapefruit happens to be a fantastic product," he said. "It's the best-tasting fruit and it's far undervalued. We've worked with the Texas citrus industry and Texas Citrus Mutual to evaluate new ways of capturing value from that product."
Park also deals with risk-management issues. He and other Extension specialists are working with a group of farmers in the coastal region to mitigate damage done by feral hogs to wheat, corn and sorghum crops.
Park teaches two courses: Agricultural Marketing 314 and Agricultural Cooperation 413. The agricultural cooperation course is part of the endowed professorship and is designed to shape future leaders who might become employed by a cooperative after graduation, he said.
His course instruction takes a different approach: Students are elected to board positions, with Park acting as the general manager. Class members receive "patronage dividends" in the form of grade points for specific projects completed.
Park said he couldn't be in a better position in serving both Texas agriculture and working with students at Texas A&M who will someday be industry leaders.
"I'm really thrilled to be a part of the cooperative environment here in Texas and with people who are truly concerned about not just their business, but their neighbors and communities," Park said. "To be part of this Roy B. Davis professorship is very exciting and a blessing for me."