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Wisconsin Legislature considering changes to cooperative rules

Wisconsin State Capitol

A proposal to change the rules for Wisconsin cooperatives is getting some opposition.

Nick Levendofsky with Wisconsin Farmers Union says, “In our opinion, average size farmers would see their voting power in the co-op significantly diminished compared to the co-op’s very largest farm members.”

Levendofsky says Assembly Bill 353 would take away the one member-one vote provision.  “And, if your cooperative votes to make these changes, up to 20% of your co-op’s board seats could be turned over to non-members including outside investors.  You could also lose the right to review cooperative records that are more than three years old, and your co-op would be allowed to give greater than 8% returns to capital investors.”

Paul Zimmerman at Wisconsin Farm Bureau says they are monitoring the bill. “We have not taken an official position either for or against the bill.  We’re going to attend the hearing tomorrow and see what the dialogue is at the committee hearing, and then give a chance to go back with our members.”

Zimmerman tells Brownfield Farm Bureau has members both for and against the bill. “We have Farm Bureau members that I’ve talked to that are supportive of the change, and we have some members that I’ve talked to that are concerned about moving away from the one member-one vote perspective, but I do want to caution that it is only for a cooperative holding company.  It isn’t for all cooperatives.”

Right now, Wisconsin has one cooperative holding company.  Cooperative Resources International controls both Genex with its livestock genetics offerings and AgSource which offers laboratory testing for soils and dairy herd improvement.  Zimmerman told Brownfield CRI helped draft the bill under consideration.

A public hearing on the bill is set for Wednesday (9/27/17) at 11-o-clock in the state capitol.

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