Co-operative associations among commercial vegetable growers have been developed mainly within the past 15 years, for with the rapid extension of the gardening industry co-operation has become a necessity. In many instances they were organized for the protection of the members against excessive transportation rates and unscrupulous commission merchants, but now the scope has broadened until every phase of marketing is controlled by most of the organizations, and many have taken up other lines of work important to producers.
The objects of the various associations vary considerably, but as a rule the specific purpose is co-operation in buying and selling, although the work is generally more comprehensive. The constitution of a large and highly successful organization contains the following: "Section 1. Its object shall be the buying, selling and handling of produce, the selling and consigning of produce as agent of the purchaser, the inspection of all produce so sold or consigned, and the owning or operating of storage warehouses and packing houses for produce, and generally to deal in all such materials, articles, or goods as in the opinion of the board of directors can be conveniently and advantageously dealt in by the corporation."
Co-operative associations have been formed for the benefit of all classes of producers. There are many organizations of greenhouse growers. General truckers in various sections, especially southward, are well organized. Growers of special crops have united for their mutual benefit, forming such organizations as the Long Island Cauliflower Association, and the Thermal Cantaloupe Growers' Association. General organizations, however, are much more common, and some are mammoth affairs, having hundreds of members representing thousands of acres; others are small, having only a few members, although the benefits justify cooperation.
The transactions of organizations like the Eastern Shore of Virginia Produce Exchange and the Southern Produce Company amount to millions of dollars annually. These great cooperative bodies are well known in the principal cities, and are a great advantage in making sales. The annual total shipments of a single kind of vegetable often run into thousands of cars. For example, a Texas association shipped in one year over 3,000 cars of watermelons.
Capitalization ranges from a few hundred dollars to $100,000 or more, depending upon the methods adopted and the magnitude of the organization. The number of shares held by any one person is always limited, and sometimes is adjusted pro rata to the number of acres cultivated. In some instances members are required to give bond for about $100, and a general manager is selected to conduct the business for 5 per cent on net sales, all office expenses and telegrams being paid by the manager.
The management of an association is in the hands of a board of directors who are chosen because of their extensive operations or peculiar fitness for the work devolving upon them. They employ a manager, who usually gives all of his time to the business affairs of the association. He may work on commission, but the more common plan is to pay him a salary. It takes a keen, shrewd, alert, tactful business man to handle the business of a large organization. He must have a thorough knowledge of men (producers on the one hand, and buyers on the other), transportation companies and their methods, refrigeration, industrial conditions, cities, supply and demand, centers of production, movement of crops, and dealers in the various cities to be supplied; he must keep in daily or hourly touch with all the great markets in order to avoid gluts and to sell at highest prices. The wires are used with freedom. One well-known organization paid $10,000 in one year for telegrams.
It is impossible for an individual producer, living hundreds of miles from market, to sell at as uniformly high prices as an association. He is in the dark as to market conditions; he is busy enough with the production end, to say nothing of finding a market; in many instances he is a poor business man and has a meager knowledge of problems which must be understood by a successful manager or salesman. A competent manager knows where to ship, what to ship and how to ship. Some managers are paid salaries of several thousand dollars. They are masters of the art of selling and of dealing with business men.
When transactions are made on so large a scale and through one corporation, the savings may amount to thousands of dollars a year; better transportation rates are secured; refrigeration costs less; fertilizers, packages, seeds, implements and other supplies are bought in car lots at the lowest prices; the quality of the supplies is also more satisfactory; seeds may be grown by contract and under inspection of a representative of the association.
Organization brings the growers closer together, and instead of being in competition with each other their interests are mutual; they become more neighborly and the community as a whole enjoys a delightful fellowship. At the same time, the producer need not lose his individuality; he may use special methods and mark his produce with his own brand or trade mark.
Co-operation means better and more intelligent gardeners because of free and mutual exchange of ideas. This is a daily occurrence in organized communities. Jones and Smith meet at the shipping station. Jones has the better watermelons. Smith wants to know how they were grown, and his neighbor is pleased to tell him, because their interests are mutual. Meetings of the association are held from time to time. The strong organizations are able to employ the best talent, and the result is that these meetings or conferences are great educational forces. In some instances the associations have been able to interest the experiment stations in their problems, and have secured special investigations in their behalf.
One of the greatest advantages of co-operation is the fact that the producer is relieved of the strain of selling his produce. This often causes more worry than the growing. The association relieves him of this anxiety, and all of his time and energy may then be devoted to the work of production and the preparation of crops for market. He can give his undivided attention to his work at home, and for this reason his earning power should be practically doubled, while at the same time he is conscious of the fact that the association will get more money for the crops than he could by individual effort.
Uniformity In Packages, in packing, grading and branding are decided advantages. The careful system of inspection used by organizations reduces to a minimum irregularities in these respects.
The earnings from the crops grown in a given section depend largely upon proper distribution. This is one of the greatest objects of organization. For example, a car of melons may be shipped from a southern point to Philadelphia. While it is in transit the manager may learn that the hourly arrival of large quantities of melons makes good prices in Philadelphia very uncertain, if not impossible, and the car is sent to a market that looks more promising. Some organizations attract buyers, and sales are made at the shipping station. This is a very desirable plan, for it relieves the association of considerable responsibility and probably results in higher prices. The Ozark Fruit Growers' Association consigned on commission 294 cars of strawberries in one season at an average price of 90 cents a crate. During the same season 226 cars were sold on the track at an average price of $1.27. This made a difference of 37 cents a crate in favor of the track method of selling. Another season this association sold on commission 272 cars at the average price of $1 a crate, but the 288 cars sold on the track at $1.66 a crate, or an increase of 66 cents over the commission method.
The constitutions and by-laws of associations vary to some extent. Those of the eastern shore of Virginia Produce Exchange may be taken as typical of the best.