CHS, Land O'Lakes top USDA co-op list

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 9:42 PM

A federal report says Minnesota is home to four of the nation's eight biggest agricultural co-operatives.

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A CHS tanker brought fuel to a Cenex store in Montana. CHS had $25.3 billion in sales during 2010.

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WASHINGTON - Minnesota boasted the nation's two top-grossing agriculture co-operatives in 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday.

Inver Grove Heights-based CHS Inc., an energy, farm supply, grain and food co-op, ranked first in the country with $25.3 billion in revenue in 2010, the latest year for which the USDA released figures. Arden Hills-based Land O'Lakes, a dairy foods behemoth, took in $11.1 billion and finished second.

The variety of products generating revenue demonstrates the strength and diversity of Minnesota's agricultural economy, said agricultural economist Bill Lazarus of the University of Minnesota. Minnesota had four co-operatives in the top eight and 11 in the top-grossing 100.

"We're sitting at the intersection of three agricultural regions -- corn and soybeans in the south, wheat and sugar beets in the northwest, and dairy in the center and southeast," Lazarus explained. "That leads to more diverse agriculture than you have in many other states."

A multibillion-dollar "trade surplus" in food and agricultural products significantly bolsters the state's economy, Lazarus said.

The state's Scandinavian roots make people comfortable with the farmer-owned co-operative model rather than investor-owned companies, he added.

CHS, which grew from a merger of Cenex, a fuel and energy supplier, and Harvest States Inc., a food and grain co-op, does include some preferred stock shareholders as well as farmers. The co-op's revenue is running at record levels.

In 2011, CHS enjoyed revenue of $36.9 billion, which produced record earnings of $421 million, said Lynden Johnson, executive vice president for business solutions.

"Right now agriculture is riding a great cycle of prosperity, and it starts with our farmers," Johnson said in an interview. A top revenue ranking among co-ops "gives you some notice. But we're still a quarter of the size of Cargill."

Land O'Lakes issued a statement about the USDA report: "Land O'Lakes' strong performance reflects the fact that agriculture is one of the great growth industries of our era - as well as the vital role cooperatives play."

Jim Spencer • 202-408-2752

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