Farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives posted record sales and income in 2011, surpassing the previous record sales year of 2008 by $10 billion while besting the old income record by $500 million, according to the Department of Agriculture's Dallas Tonsager, under secretary for Rural Development.

The announcement of the most recently available cooperative numbers and finances was part of the kick-off to recognize October as National Cooperative Month.

Tonsager said co-op employment levels remained strong, with cooperatives employing 184,000 full-time, part-time and seasonal workers in 2011, up slightly from 2010.

"These new cooperative sales and income records for 2011 underscore the strength and productivity of the nation's farmer- and rancher-owned cooperatives, and the vital role they play in the nation's economy," said Tonsager. "Primarily because of mergers, the number of farm co-ops continued to decline, but memberships and asset values are up."

Net income before taxes for all agricultural co-ops was a record $5.4 billion, eclipsing the previous high of $4.9 billion, set in 2008. Net income was up more than 25 percent, or $1 billion, from 2010.

The USDA surveyed 2,285 cooperatives, and they had sales of $213 billion, exceeding 2010 sales by more than $40 billion.

CHS Inc., Saint Paul, Minn., which is an energy, farm supply, grain and food co-op, was once again the nation's largest ag co-op, with $36.9 billion in revenue in 2011. It was followed by Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Mo., with $12.9 billion in revenue. It traded places from 2010 with third-ranked Land O' Lakes Inc., St. Paul, Minn., a dairy, food and farm supply co-op, with $12.8 billion in revenue in 2011.

Iowa is home to 14 of the top 100 ag co-ops, the most of any state. It is followed by Minnesota with 13, Nebraska with 10, California with 6 and Wisconsin with 5. The biggest gains on the list were made by cotton cooperatives, due primarily to sharply higher cotton prices in 2011. 

Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative, Garner, N.C., made the largest jump, rising from 129 in 2010 to 71 on the 2011 list. It was followed by Calcot Ltd., Bakersfield, Calif., which climbed from 131 in 2010 to 85 in 2011. The next eight biggest gainers on the list were all grain or mixed (grain and farm supply) co-ops, due largely to high grain prices.

There was a continued downward trend in farm numbers, with USDA counting 2.2 million farms in 2011, down about 10,000 from 2010. The number of farmer cooperatives continues to decline, too. There are now 2,285 farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives, down from 2,314 in 2010. Mergers account for most of the drop, resulting in larger cooperatives.

For more in-depth information about how the nation's agricultural cooperatives performed in 2011, see the September-October issue of USDA's "Rural Cooperatives" magazine at: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_Coop_RurCoopMag.html